Trade School with Mercer County Career Center – Dusty Jobs Podcast – S2 E4

Aug 31, 2021

For this episode of the Dusty Jobs Podcast we had three visitors come from the Mercer County Career Center. They all gave us their thoughts on the Trades and how important they are to the growth of our country. We also talked about how it makes sense to come out of the Career Center with a trade and into a huge job market and start making money right out of high school.





Narrator: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs Podcast from Imperial Systems. Industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.

Donovan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Today joining us is Lori Stainbrook, and she’s joining us from the Mercer County Career and Technical Center. Hi Lori, how are you doing today?

Lori: Great, great. How are you?

Donovan: Great. We were talking before this and your career title, your job title is so long, I just figured I’d let you introduce yourself. What do you do in there again?

Lori: I’m the Cooperative Education Coordinator at the Mercer County Career Center.

Donovan: Okay, and that means what? What are doing?

Lori: So essentially what I do is the students that are in their shops, they’re learning their skills and usually by their senior year, they’re prime and they’re ready to go out and find work. So we get them in and we address the soft skills. We get their resume together, their cover letter and we put it out there and find them a job.  Sometimes they find their own job. So what I do is I just transition them into the work force, essentially.

Donovan: You’re taking them from- they’ve been learning these skills the whole time while they are at the Career Center, and you help them actually get out there into the real world?

Lori: Correct. 

Donovan: So it’s that step, That first step possibly into somebody’s first adult careers, huh?

Lori: Correct, right.

Donovan: You’re helping them with that. That’s great. Now how long have you been doing that?

Lori: One year.

Donovan: One year?

Lori: I did it part time the year prior too, and of course we had COVID last year, so it was kind of an interesting year. But we got about forty students out in spite of of it being COVID.

Donovan: But you’ve been with the school for longer than that haven’t you?

Lori: I have, yes.

Donovan: How long have you been with the school?

Lori: Probably… it’s been twenty-four years.

Donovan: Oh, my goodness.

Lori: Twenty-four years.

Donovan: So, you have a ton of experience with helping out with kids learning trades, and, and things like that.

Lori: Well, mainly health care. So, I’m an uh, RN by trade, so I started teaching with the LPN Program which is the adult, nursing program License Practical Nursing. That was part time and I started with the high school students in ’97, and so that’s the health careers program, and it prepares for really any career in the healthcare field. They get their nurse aid, they get a bunch of healthcare certs, so they can hit the ground running and get in healthcare.

Donovan: Right, so that’s great stuff too- I mean, we need more nurses every day.

Lori: Indeed

Donovan: So, over the last twenty years-so, I don’t know, I feel like there’s been a little bit of a shift in the mentality of how people look at trades. So, if you would go back twenty years when you started this what do you think the mentality was back then or how people looked at trades. Do you think it’s different than today? I’ll let you speak to that.

Lori: I think it’s definitely changed. I did a lot of PR work for my program, so I would go into the high schools and I would talk about healthcare and there are varying levels of healthcare. So, you can get out iamb essentially have no education and be working in healthcare. You can get a two-year degree. You can get a four-year degree. So, the Career Center was kind of a hard sell because most of the counselors at that time were under the impression that most students need to go to four years of college to be able to come out and be successful in really any field, and you know, the healthcare field for sure. So, nowadays I’m seeing that counselors are a little bit more open to students maybe coming to the Career Center-and even higher-level academic students.

My daughter, in fact, started at Penn State Behrend in engineering, and decided to come to the precision metal program, her senior year to get some hands-on experience. So, she did that and you know was very successful and then was able to do an internship. The last two months of her senior year which really kind of opened up, you know, employment and she was able to get some hands-on experience as well. 

Donovan: Yeah, yeah. And that’s, that’s something you typically won’t find in a standard education setting, you know, is that this hands-on experience. You can get internships, you can get placements, and we have some students here that have come from Mercer County Career Center. Now they’re working with us and they came through that same process where they started in, and now they’re actually working for us. But we can get to that in a minute. So, I also felt that way like, back in the nineties-maybe there was a, maybe a little bit of people looking down their nose at some trades.

Lori: A stigma, sure.

Donovan: There was a stigma about it. And I don’t know, I think our culture has seen a shift in which, trade jobs…I don’t think they are a low paying job anymore.

Lori: No.

Donovan: I think you can make a good living at it these days. I think it has become a little bit more of a, I don’t know, a field of people who are able to accomplish things with their skill and with their hands as…looked upon in a little bit of a higher light than it used to be.

Lori: Most definitely, and then you get out there and you are an entrepreneur and you start your own business. I mean, those are the people that are successful for this day in age.

Donovan: And you can do it when you go to a school like yours. You can do it with little to no debt because of the ability to start right out of high school with an education that’s provided by the county. Okay, so that’s where we were. Am I summing this up pretty good? You can speak more to it if I’m missing anything.

Lori: Well definitely, I think, and the counselors are the gate keepers for our, you know population at the career center. I  think they’re a little more open to the fact that there is a success level with the students that come to the Career Center. I mean we’re placing them in jobs. They are making a good living, you know. The hours are good and like I said they are able to go on and possibly form their own business and become very successful.

Donovan: So that’s kinda this-where we are at right now with the trades. Where do you, you know as someone who’s seeing and you guys probably have a lot of knowledge on this. Where do you see the trades are gonna go in the future?  Do you see them slipping backwards? What do you think the future of trades is gonna be?

Lori: Well, college is expensive. It really is and there is a definite need for people to be working in the trades. So, the jobs are there. We need to fill them, so I think it’s really important that we train and, you know, that’s where the jobs are – that’s where the money is.

Donovan: Are you guys still seeing a real uptick in job openings for thing? I mean like we have welders here in that.

Lori: Yeah. We, we couldn’t fill the job openings. I have a hiring board at the school and, you know, we don’t have enough students that were career ready to fill those positions.

Donovan: Let me get this right, you have more jobs right now than students that are able to fill them. 

Lori: Correct.

Donovan: So, I mean that’s great. So, a student could come, come to the school, learn how to do a skill, come straight out of high school and you guys would move them directly into a job.

Lori: Most definitely. Now there are a lot of jobs that have pre-apprenticeship programs whereby those employers would, you know, continue their training on but, yeah, a lot of them are career ready.

Donovan: That’s great. I mean, that’s great in this day in age that you could move right out of high school and right into a good paying job too.

Lori: A good paying job, right.

Donovan: I know, uh, a lot of welders get into a shop where they have not only, you know, good pay, possibly full benefits, 401K. There’s a lot of those opportunities out there. And I think it’s great that you guys are able to help and get people on that path very early in life.

Lori: It’s rewarding. It really is. I enjoy it.

Donovan: Are you guys seeing anything with robotics or automation? Do you think that’s going to effect anything in the future?

Lori: Possibly, you know, we have people getting injured on the job, you know, you have back injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and technologies come a long way so I’m sure, we may have robots to fill some of those repetitive nature type of positions.

Donovan: That’s true yeah.

Lori: But, uh you know, we have to have maybe somebody to run that, so we do have two computer programing, and the one’s new, at the Career Center, so.  

Donovan: So you guys are even on board for getting people ready for that?

Lori:  Correct.

Donovan: That’s great. I know if you go back to one of our previous episodes we talked to a gentleman named Paul and he actually does robotic welding. So he handles that. So you could go back and listen to that episode at some point if you haven’t heard it out there, and he talked about how even though you have someone whose running that welding robot, you still need a welder who knows what that weld is supposed to look like. They might be there supervising a robot, or checking on a robot, but that person still needs to know what a welding is supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to do, so I think we are going to see some of these welders transition into supervising possibly two welding robots where they know what that weld is supposed to be like because they’ve done it themselves, and they have that knowledge and can speak from experience.

Lori: Sure, sure, you have to have that background and then you can move into the higher tech positions.

Donovan: Right, exactly, exactly. So, we’ve worked with you guys on a couple people who have come work for us. So, what’s that like? Tell me what that’s been like working with Imperial on getting some students in the Career Center.

Lori: Well I have to say, you guys are great as far as getting the students, you know, in here. I had a student. She was a female welder. So I called up and I said, “Hey,” you know, “she’s ready to go out,” and you guys were really gracious, you know. You made the transition really easy. You made my job easy. That was the good part. She was a little intimidated to come out into the work force, and she was actually thinking about, continuing her welding education after the Career Center. So, the counselor and I sat down and even the welding instructor said, “You’re ready, you, need to go out.” So she started here, and I guess she’s doing great things.

Donovan: Yeah, yeah, I think she’s fit in real well in the shop and I see a lot of people who are older, older guys in the shop who have been welding for a long time and they’ve really, not only her, but the other people from the Career Center that have come in, they take these young people and they…I think they have an appreciation for people their age coming in. They pull them under their wing and they want to make sure that they are doing a good job because it’s something that they’ve been doing their whole life, and I think they want the next generation to appreciate it as much as they do.

Lori: And that’s what it takes, and that’s so important. You’ve got to train them because those people will be retiring and we need a whole new crew. 

Donovan: And that’s what you guys are doing, helping to get that next generation ready, to keep America moving and make it so we can still build things in America, so we can produce stuff here and we need the people to be able to do that with the knowledge and skills.

Lori: Definitely.

Donovan: That’s what you guys are doing out there at the Career Center. Is there anything else you want to share? Is there anything else you want to talk about at the Career Center. 

Lori: Well, there are fourteen other programs. Any student that’s thinking their on the fence as far as a career, come visit us. Like I said, we have a range of different programs. We have the soft skills and we have what’s called the heavy shop with automotive, diesel, welding, etc, entrepreneurial. So, it’s a great way to explore different careers and just kind of get your feet wet and maybe it will branch out into something permanent. 

Donovan: Yeah, that’s our hope. Lori, thanks so much for coming on. We really appreciate you sharing your time and information with us about the Career Center and how students can get involved. How you guys are working to shape the future of a lot of working class Americans to get them on the right track, to making a good living and helping build our country. 

Lori: Thank you for supporting us as well. We really appreciate having you in the community. 




Donovan: Now we have joining us Avery Lockwood. How are you doing today Avery?

Avery: Pretty good. How about you?

Donovan: Good. Thanks for asking. So you actually are now working at Imperial, but you started at the Career Center, correct? 

Avery: Yeah. I went there for two years, and I loved it there. I didn’t know if I wanted to go on to more schooling. I’ve been at Imperial for two months. I started doing co-op. My welding instructor knew I had it in me just to go straight into work instead of going on to more school. 

Donovan: Now, co-op…that’s where you are still in school but they let you come to work for a little bit. Is that right?

Avery: Yeah, that’s where I go to my home school for the beginning of the day or even in the afternoon, however the school does it. Then I would go to work for the other half of the day.

Donovan: Do you feel that really helped you gain some confidence to be able to move into the working world?

Avery: It definitely helped me, because I got comfortable here before I started here full time. I mean, I could have kind of gone anywhere with it and then come here, but I’m glad I stayed here. I was comfortable with the people. I knew who the people were and that kind of stuff.

Donovan: So what’s your experience been like so far here at Imperial? How do you like it?

Avery: It’s pretty good. I’m definitely getting used to some of the stuff that I’ve never done before like driving the forklift or even the cranes. It’s simple stuff that I was never taught. I enjoy that. 

Donovan: So, who is teaching you that here? 

Avery: Kind of pretty much everybody. I mean, all the guys are extremely helpful. I can go up to any of them and they’re extremely supportive. I know how many times the guys have asked, “What got you into welding? You’re a girl. What got you into it?” I’m just like, “I don’t know. It wasn’t really anything. I just love getting my hands dirty and having fun with it.”

Donovan: I mean, was that it? Did you know somebody else that was a welder, or did you just decide this all on your own? Like, “This is something I want to do.”

Avery: I actually had a buddy of mine…me and my family have a pulling truck. So there’s this family friend, and he’s just like, “Hey, I’ve got to fix some stuff. Do you want to come try it out?” At that time, like three years ago, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do. My older sister was going to nursing school. My family kind of wanted to push me to go to more school, but I still had absolutely no clue. So I’m like, “Give it a try.” So I went and welded some stuff up for him on his pulling truck and he’s just like, “You actually have a pretty good knack for that,” and I’m like, “Okay, guess that’s my skill.” So that’s just what I started to pursue. 

Donovan: And so far you’ve been enjoying it?

Avery: I’ve been enjoying it, yeah. Very much so.

Donovan: So what all do they have you doing here at Imperial? What are the welding tasks you’ve been given?

Avery: A lot of different positions, and how to weld. Normally at VoTech it’s just the same stuff. At VoTech you just did a little plate of whatever and then here it’s just absolutely everything. Like, I’ve done stock work. I’ve done stuff that is actually going to be shipped out. I’ve been enjoying it.

Donovan: How do you like actually seeing something turn into something?

Avery: That’s something I’ve actually seen myself be proud of because I’ve never really had to build anything and it goes somewhere else. It’s always just like you cut a piece and then you throw it away. So seeing something actually be put into something else and then it working out.

Donovan: Yeah, and I mean I think it’s neat. I’m not in your guy’s department. I don’t do the welding and fabricating. For me, I think it’s great that we’re building something that not only helps keep people safer, but keeps people healthier. I think it’s cool to see those go out the door, to see our equipment go out the door and know that it’s going to go to another place where it’s going to improve people’s lives. It’s not just the next cool thing that someone’s going to have or it’s going to wear out but it’s actually a safety thing that helps people feel that it’s going to be better and help other people who are welders and who are in the trades that it’s going to make their lives better and be healthy when they go home to their families at night. I really appreciate what you guys do out there and I think everybody out in the shop, including yourself just puts out a really great quality product. So, we’re super glad to have you on our team. Do you have anything else you want to say to anybody who is listening out there who is thinking about getting into welding, who is thinking about going to the Mercer County Career Center? 

Avery: Just do it.

Donovan: Just do it?

Avery: If it’s something that you want to do, and even if you don’t even have any slight interest or anything before that experience, just try it out. I mean at the Career Center you don’t have to pay for anything. It’s not like schooling that you would have to go for two more years. Just do it. 

Donovan: Just do it. 

Avery: Just do it.

Donovan: Well, thanks so much for coming on. I appreciate it.




Donovan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Today we have Grant Gilhousen from the Mercer County Career Center with us today. How are you doing Grant?

Grant: Good.

Donovan: Good. So, what’s your role over there at the Career Center?

Grant: I’m the lead welding instructor at the Career Center.

Donovan: So how long have you been over there doing that?

Grant: I just finished my eighth year and this upcoming year will be my ninth started. 

Donovan: Wow. So you’ve got a little bit of experience…

Grant: Little bit, yeah.

Donovan:…bringing these young kids up in the trades.

Grant: I try to do my best.

Donovan: There you go. Well, we know you’re doing a good job because we’ve got a couple of them in the shop here and they’re doing a great job. You haven’t always been over at the school, right? Did you go to the school prior to teaching there?

Grant: No, I actually graduated from Franklin High School in Venango County. So, I went to Venango County VoTech for welding there. 

Donovan: I got you. Then you moved into actually welding for bit?

Grant: Right. The day after graduation I started in the trades.

Donovan: Right into it?

Grant: Right into it.

Donovan: So you didn’t have to do any job searching or nothing. They got you right into it.

Grant: Yep.

Donovan: That’s interesting how that happens when you go to the trades. Sometimes you can start right out of high school making money in a good job. So how long were you there?

Grant: I started at Witherup Erection & Fabrication and I was there for probably six months or so and go laid off, went to another tank company, was there for another six months or so, got laid off. So, I knew I had to get something a little more stable. I went to work at Joy Mining Machinery in Franklin and I was there for five and half years until I started teaching.

Donovan: I have to imagine that time actually being out in the field, being at a couple locations, actually welding has to come into a huge part of being able to teach these young kids what it’s actually like out there in the real world.

Grant: It is. It’s nice to be able to tell them that if they’re doing something I’ll say, “You know, this isn’t going to fly in the real world, in a real shop. Those guys are going to eat you up if you act like you are.” That’s one thing you can actually tell them. That’s not going to work in the real world. You really have to have your head screwed on straight. Safety, horseplay – none of that will ever fly. As well as learning the little tricks and secrets from the older guys that have been there for years on years. 

Donovan: That’s interesting. That’s a good point. You’re not just teaching these young people about the skills that they’e going to need but it’s about how to be safe in an environment, how to interact with others in an environment because in a shop it’s not just you. You’re usually working with a team or other people, right? That’s almost as much of a skill as actually welding.

Grant: You have to be able to communicate and work well with others. I tell them all the time. Those old boys in the shop, or women, they’re going to take you under their wing if they like you and they’re going to show you everything they know. If you don’t do that, those guys can make you look real bad real quick.

Donovan: So that’s great to know that if you go to the Mercer County Career Center you’re not just going to learn about welding, you’re going to learn about social interaction in the shop.

Grant: Right, soft skills.

Donovan: Soft skills.

Grant: A lot of soft skills in there too.

Donovan: That’s a new term for me. I’m going to keep it. I’m going to tell my kids at home that they have to learn some soft skills. That’s great. So, coming from working in the trades to where it is now. You started in probably 2007, working in the trades?

Grant: Yes, yeah.

Donovan: Now it’s 2021. How have you seen the transition from maybe the mentality of how people looked at the trades or how that interaction with what it meant to be a welder then and what it means to be one now. What’s been your journey been through that process.

Grant: Even whenever I was in school, if you went to VoTech you weren’t one of the smart kids and the people that stayed at the home school, they were the ones that were going to college to make all the money. It’s still the same mentality these days, but what’s funny is in the long run those people that don’t go to VoTech, that stay for their core classes and that, they’re usually the ones looking for a job and they’re however many thousands of dollars in debt. If you go to the VoTech or a trade school like that you can go right into work and start making your money. So, I mean there’s always that mentality that the people that are staying at the home school are going to be better in the long run but time and time again it shows that it’s not true.

Donovan: We’re around the same age and I can remember people saying, “Go to college. Go to college.” I think that mentality is actually driven a lot of people out of the trades and now we have this huge gap. We have this space where we need a lot of people to do this work and not a lot of people that know how to do it and not a lot of people with a lot of experience in it. So, its almost a deficit and it’s not helping our society. We need people who are going to come back and work in America and make American made products. 

Grant: Right.

Donovan: I think that’s what you guys are doing over there. Not only have you helped teach the next generation to do it, you’ve been out doing it. So, there’s that gap. We were talking a little bit before we got on the camera here about how I think there has been a little bit of a shift in how people view what people used to work as factory work or welding work or that kind of stuff. I think it’s become a lot more of a respectable profession within our culture and community. It probably should have always been but we’re starting to see a little bit more people come around. Is that something you’re seeing with the young kids coming in, that they’re viewing it that way?

Grant: Yeah, I think that people are finally seeing that the trades are not a bad thing. It’s not the old dusty, gloomy look of the fifties and sixties. Things are a lot healthier nowadays. The pay is great in most situations. Everybody is trying to make things come back to America, you know, American made. The only way to do that is for people to go out and work in those industries. 

Donovan: Do you think that’s going to be the future of where we see things going? You think we’re still going to see a need demand for skilled trade laborers?

Grant: I definitely think so, especially when every year more and more baby boomers are retiring and leaving the area. They might go down to Florida or something. We definitely need people to fill those spots. I mean I started whenever I got out of high school and started working. You could see the older generations guys go in flocks of ten or fifteen every year retiring. I’m sure it’s still like that, you know. You might have guys that are sixty and seventy years old retiring. 

Donovan: It’s that crew of guys that’s been working together almost their whole career and when one of them goes they’re all about ready to go. Man, I can only imagine that it’s not only a big gap in the actual work force, but a gap in the knowledge that those guys have built over the years. These younger people being able to get in while those people are still there and gain as much as they can. You know, that’s another thing that’s really interesting about the trades. You can learn a lot of basic skills when you’re in school but once you’re on the job site like you’re saying that’s a continual education that you’re getting paid for. Your employer is like, “I want you to learn more and be better at your trade.” They’re willing to help basically take another person who has been there for a long time and say, “Mentor this young person,” because they know it’s good for them. Instead of you paying for that education, your employer is paying for it by continuing to help you along. I know that’s encouraged in our shop for the older guys to help the new people coming in to get them along because that’s just better for everybody in the long run. So, one of the things we always talk about is the health and shop environment. You know, we build dust collectors here, but I mean, I’m sure you’re probably seeing that hopefully there is less of a concern from young people coming in to the trades that there is a better, healthier environment to go work in. Is that a concern people are still having or do you see that that is something that is maybe going away?

Grant: Especially with welding, I think there is still the concerns, and, “Oh, you’re breathing in this and that.” Those are the people that have never stepped into a shop before, especially a newer age shop. It’s not like it was back in the fifties or sixties where you walk into a building and you can’t see the other end of it. Theres so much technology and smoke suckers and respirators and that now. Everything has been upgraded so much. Really, if you wear all your PPE there’s very minimal health concerns. 

Donovan: So, if there’s a young person out there listening to this or if there are parents listening to this and they’re a little bit hesitant about their kid getting into the trades because of health hazards, I think, like you said, we’re getting better at that every day. 

Grant: Everything has advanced so much, even since I’ve been in the shop working. I mean things have just been crazy how they’re advancing. 

Donovan: Well, just as a closing thought here, do you have anything else if someone is out there listening to this and they’re thinking about getting into the trades or getting into welding, what would be some words of encouragement or anything you’d want to say to them as they’re trying to weigh what they should do with their future.

Grant: I think to anybody that is on the fence of going to a VoTech or a trade school or staying in their home school, think about the long run. Don’t think about…I mean, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices, obviously. You might not be able to do choir, or you might not be able to do band, or something like that, but think of it in the long run about what you can better do for yourself. I mean, you have the opportunity of a free education for a two or three year program through a VoTech that if you graduated and took the same type of program, a year and a half program at a satellite trade school somewhere, you’re looking at $20,000 at least. So, I mean $20,000 compared to maybe changing a couple classes or doing something different in high school to a better look into your future, to me that’s a definite benefit.

Donovan: To be able to come out of your high school career debt free with a skill under your belt ready to make some money and walk right into it, that is a big leg up these days.

Grant: Yes.

Donovan: Well, hey, thanks for coming on. We appreciate you taking a minute. We appreciate all the students you’ve taught over the last couple years and all the great work they do here. So, if you are out here listening, we just want to say stay healthy, stay safe. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube , and Twitter and we’ll talk to you next time. Thanks.

Narrator: Thanks for listening to the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Breathe better, work safer.