It takes more than a mere coronavirus pandemic and global recession to hold back graduates of the Crawford County Career and Technical Center.
The school is celebrating 24 students who graduated earlier this month and have signed on with area employers.
After losing the final 11 weeks of their senior-year cooperative education programs due to the school shutdown, the students went looking for work in what is likely to be judged the worst economic downturn in nearly a century.
They found it.
“It was probably the best thing I ever did,” Cyrus Gage, 18, said of his decision to study precision machining at the CTC. “If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here today.”
On Tuesday, Gage was posing near the front entrance to C&J Industries Inc., his new employer, along with several of the company’s top officials — the people who recently gave Gage a full-time job and a spot in the company’s apprenticeship program.
Less than three weeks after his nontraditional, coronavirus-affected graduation, Gage is spending his days running mills, lathes and grinders on the C&J shop floor. Soon, he’ll be spending many of his evenings studying for his journeyman’s card through online classes. Four years from now, he expects to have that card in hand.
“I love it,” the Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High graduate said of his new job. “I started as soon as the school year would have ended — the day I got my diploma from high school, the next day I was full-time.”
Gage’s position is the culmination of two years spent in the CTC’s precision machining program and a third year — minus the final 11 weeks — in the co-op program the school restarted for the 2018-19 school year. He also spent the summer before his senior year working at the plant.
The CTC’s original plan was to celebrate the 24 seniors who went straight into the workforce with a “signing day” event, said Bonnie Stein, cooperative education coordinator Bonnie. That’s what the school did last year, when 30 students were recognized, but plans were changed due to the shutdown. Instead of gathering all the graduates, school officials and representatives of each employer at the CTC, Stein is traveling to the various employers this week to drop off yard signs honoring each student who has been hired.
Given the challenges this year, Stein said she was pleased to see nearly half of the students involved in co-op programs find full-time employment.
The reason for the success was easy to explain, according to C&J CEO Rob Marut.
“The kids we’re seeing coming out of the co-op programs are very hard workers,” he said. “We’re very pleased with their work ethic.
“They’re really engaged and hard working,” he added.
Jerry Sargent, C&J’s chief operating officer, cited Gage’s positive attitude and willingness “to step in” as examples of the positive qualities the company looks for in new hires.
“We’re trying to be very involved with it (the CTC) because we love the outcome of what we’re getting out of it,” Sargent said.
It’s a relationship C&J hopes to see continue, according to Sargent.
“I keep putting my plug in — ‘we’ll take two, three more of these guys,’” he said. “I keep trying.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.