MUNSTER, Ind. (AP) — With a part-time job at a Valparaiso laboratory and a college scholarship, Cole Ozbolt is proud of his vocational accomplishments.
Ozbolt, 20, of Portage, works at Urschel Laboratory in Valparaiso, earning $15 per hour. He is a 2013 graduate of Portage High School and one of three Porter County students who won the first Urschel Next Generation scholarship.
As part of the scholarship, Ozbolt is attending Vincennes University, working on an associate degree in precision machining.
He is part of a growing number of region students taking advantage of vocational opportunities targeting high-demand fields.
Ozbolt began working at Urschel Laboratory in February 2013 while a student at the Porter County Career Center.
"I took classes in machining, and I learned the basics and CNC (computer numerical control) machining. It's all done by computers," Ozbolt told the (Munster) Times (http://bit.ly/1ptVvv1).
He decided to check out the center when a friend who was at the center showed him some items he made.
"I like working with my hands, so I decided to give it a try. The teachers are amazing. I love it. I'm good at it."
Ozbolt said the center gives students a chance to learn skills leading to jobs or college pursuits. The scholarship program also allows Ozbolt to return to work at Urschal Lab at Christmas and on breaks.
"My parents are really proud of me. It makes me independent," he said.
Ozbolt is one of dozens of young adults who are taking advantage of the career center.
In Lake and Porter counties, three career centers -- the Porter County Career Center, the Hammond Area Career Center and the Gary Career Center -- serve students. Some school districts also offer career and technical classes at the high school level.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz support career and technical education. Pence recently signed into law two bills supporting such services.
The first created regional Works Councils to partner with the private sector and educational organizations to identify needs in workforce, create partnerships between schools and businesses for internships and apprenticeships to boost career and technical education in high schools. The second created a state career council to bring all of the state's job creation and education efforts under one umbrella.
Urschel plant manager Dave Whitenack said the Porter County Career Center is a consistent source of machining talent. He said about 12 percent of the people who work in the shop attended the career center.
"We have about 30 employees who went through the career center, and they are long-term employees," he said.
Samuel Pauk,18, of Valparaiso, will be a senior at Boone Grove High School this fall. He attends the Porter County Career Center and works at Southshore Leadership Center in Valparaiso.
Pauk took an electronics and computer technology class at the Porter County Career Center that led to a job as the center's information technology specialist.
Porter County Career Center Director Jon Groth said the service is expanding machine trades programs and increasing enrollment by 10 percent.
"We have a significant demand for graduates with an emphasis on career and technical education. It's a reflection of the economy. It's picking up," he said. "People with general education aren't faring as well as those with specific job skills in manufacturing, construction and health care."
Groth said the scholarship program through Urschel Laboratory is a perfect example of a school-to-work program.
Like all of the school districts in Porter County, the Porter Township School Corp. is a member of the Porter County Career Center.
Porter Township Superintendent Stacey Schmidt said they host a culinary arts program at its high school.
"Enrollment is determined each year by course request through the career center," she said. "We have been working on making this dual credit. Students work in kitchens at Valparaiso University and The Pines as part of their class experience."
Hammond Area Career Center director Mike Zimmerman said the center offers numerous programs, and students have an opportunity to do work-based learning or internships with local companies.
He said participating students have worked in preschools and licensed daycare centers. He said the center has a relationship with WJOB radio in Hammond, and students from the Multi Media Broadcast Academy work there.
Last year, the Hammond Area Career Center started an emergency medical services program and partnered with St. Anthony Hospital in Crown Point. The center also works with Prompt Ambulance, which hired two of the students, Zimmerman said.
Also, the Hammond facility started a new partnership with Vincennes University called the Early College Program, enabling students to earn two years of college credit.
"This will have a huge impact," he said. "It helps students become college and career ready. This makes the high school learning experience not only tied to college work but actually count as college work."
Although the Gary Area Career Center offers a full-range of career and technical courses, director Robert Doctor said the program struggles with getting students into internship programs.
"We don't have a strong relationship with local businesses, and unlike Jon (Groth) in Porter County, we don't have a lot of medium-sized businesses in Gary," he said. "We need more work-based experiences for our children."
Some of the programs at the Gary Area Career Center include auto technology, childcare, certified nurse assistant, accounting, welding and a new offering of construction technology.
Gary school officials announced the district is partnering with Conexus Indiana and will offer classes this fall in advanced manufacturing and logistics, a two-year program that can lead to jobs or continued education.
The program is being offered at Highland High School, George Rogers Clark High School in Hammond, the A.K. Smith Career Center in Michigan City, LaCrosse High School and more than 40 other locations in Indiana.
R.D. Parpart, team leader for the Steelworker for the Future Program at ArcelorMittal in East Chicago, has said he would like to get more students involved in the Steelworker for the Future program because the average age of an employee is 57, and many are nearing retirement.
River Forest Superintendent Steve Disney said it's nice to see Pence and Ritz sharing common goals on career and technical readiness.
"Not every kid will go to college, and we need to prepare for vocational training possibly through the Steelworker of the Future Program, working through Ivy Tech. Our goal is to give students career readiness courses," he said.
Hanover Superintendent Tom Taylor said Hanover is part of a cooperative with Crown Point Community School Corp. and the Tri-Creek School Corp.
"Crown Point hosts a number of programs," he said. "Tri-Creek hosts some programs, and Hanover hosts a couple including building trades."
Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com