Canton Repository Article:  

Next step: Life after high school

By Ryan Hartong

I heard the other day that there are approximately 4,200 seniors in Stark County high schools, many of which will graduate in the coming months.  To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of over 75 NFL football teams. And, yes, I compared students to football players. We are, after all, home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Many of these seniors are pursuing a college degree (either locally or beyond), whereas others are going straight from high school to a career. There’s also another group of students who haven’t decided what their plans are for after graduation. In 2020, there were indications that as many as 30% of graduating seniors did not complete a FAFSA application (potentially suggesting no plans for college) nor had they been engaged in a vocational/technical program that often leads to employment.  After a year of ups and downs and a pandemic that completely disrupted our lives, this percentage of students could be even higher for the 2021 graduating class. 

While at first blush, this might seem discouraging, I see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to bring awareness to different, local career pathways that can lead to a rewarding, successful life. Choosing a career path can be both challenging and exciting for students— and our community has no shortage of meaningful options. Six colleges. Four-year degrees. Two-year degrees. Certification programs. Vocational training. The military. Livable wage jobs. The list goes on.

Stark County is fortunate to have community partners that have made it a priority to help these graduating seniors navigate their next step in success. Community partners like OhioMeansJobs Stark County, Goodwill Industries, Greater Stark County Urban League, SCCAA, ICAN Housing, Stark State College, local employers and many other organizations across the county. They all have community navigators on staff who are ready to work hand-in-hand with graduating seniors to assist them with life after high school. They can help 2021 graduates (and other job seekers) discover new job opportunities, free or low cost training options, career paths and college choices and how to overcome employment barriers.

This coming week provides an additional opportunity for our community to uplift career opportunities in our county. Tomorrow is the start of Ohio’s In-Demand Career Week, a statewide celebration of the jobs, industries, and skills that are in-demand in Ohio. Here in Stark County, Strengthening Stark and its network of community partners will be joining in the celebration by bringing visibility and awareness to the well-paying, in-demand careers and pathways that residents, and more specifically graduating seniors, can pursue in our community. It’s a great way for people to learn about local in-demand roles in areas specific to manufacturing, IT, health care, logistics and transportation, and hospitality and tourism. 

On behalf of the talent development subcommittee of Strengthening Stark, we hope you’ll join in the celebration by talking to graduating seniors and their families about the in-demand career opportunities that exist in our community. Let them know that we want them to stay local after high school, and there’s an entire support network of community partners here for them.

Hartong is chair of the Strengthening Stark’s talent development subcommittee and attorney and manager of government affairs for The Timken Company.