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Today's Family Magazine

NextWork program offers students a new perspective on manufacturing

A student helps to clean machine parts at Universal Metal Products.

By Mary Flenner

In the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will open up as the baby boomer generation retires; yet only 1.5 million positions are expected to be filled.

NextWork, founded by Wickliffe Superintendent Joe Ciccia and Director of Strategic Innovations Julie Ramos, is working to fill in that gap, by giving students a firsthand experience with the manufacturing world.

Launched in December 2017, NextWork offers a web-based portal to streamline the process of coordinating internships, shadow programs and site visits. The NextWork program is designed to provide K-12 students exposure, training and quality job opportunities while fulfilling local manufacturing workforce needs.

“We work to give kids experience outside the four walls of the classroom to develop from a whole person perspective,” says Ramos.

Manufacturing makes up 40% of Lake County’s workforce, supporting over 33,000 jobs and it is estimated that over 8,000 manufacturing workers will be retiring in the next 10 years.

“A misperception about manufacturing exists. Parents think that manufacturing is not as profitable.  Everyone wants their kids to go to college now.  Manufacturing jobs require a certain level of skill, and they pay very well.  Somebody at a manufacturing job in their first year will make more than a teacher will make.  There are big opportunities for growth,” says Ciccia.

Through NextWork, juniors and seniors go to work twice a week through a paid internship at prestigious companies in Lake and Geauga counties, such as Swagelok Manufacturing, Universal Metal Products, Inc., Component Repair Technologies, WVIZ Technology, Fredon Corporation and the Lost Nation Airport.

Wickliffe High School juniors, De’Narre McRae and Kyle Nelson were two of the first year students  interning at Swagelok, where they have both been impressed by the experience.

McRae explains, “We switch stations every six weeks.  My favorite was inspection.  Everything is hands-on and very interactive.  It’s more than a job, you have someone to connect with and work with at the same time.  You feel comfortable, like you have someone in your corner.  They’ve taught me life lessons and given me great advice.” 

“I’m in maintenance right now, I go around with my trainer and he teaches me how to fix machines and how to make them run more efficiently.  I’m on the shop floor with other workers, seeing how their machine works, and getting a good look inside the machines,” says Nelson.

“They don’t treat you like a kid, they treat you like an adult… like family,” Nelson adds.
“I think many students would be surprised to learn that almost every company offers tuition reimbursement, which is a great perk,” says McRae.

“How many kids go to school for five years and come out feeling like they earned a degree that didn’t prepare them for a job, and they end up back at a local community college?  Through NextWork, they’re making $10-11/hour as a student.  They could have a job offer for $15-18/hour, and then they have the opportunity for tuition reimbursement,” says Ciccia.

“The NextWork program is the best thing to promote manufacturing in Lake and Geauga counties,” says Roger Sustar, CEO of Fredon Corporation.  Sustar founded the Alliance for Working Together (AWT) which has partnered with NextWork, and he has been a pioneer in working to change the overall perception of manufacturing among educators, counselors, parents and students.

“We’ve helped a lot youngsters get in to successful careers.  Some have even started competitive businesses, and that’s good.  That’s what makes the world go round,” Sustar says.
“Persistency wins out every time. I try every day.  If you keep trying, eventually you’ll succeed,” says Sustar. “The future depends on these kids, so we want to promote rewarding careers in manufacturing.”

“Our ‘why’ became economic prosperity.  We want to promote economic prosperity in our community. While we work for Wickliffe schools, we believe in being inclusive and helping every one.  When our region prospers, we all benefit,” says Ciccia.

“Each school utilizes the platform differently.  Some may use it simply for site visits, speakers or senior projects.  School districts can take advantage to whatever level they like,” Ciccia explains.

“The powerful tool is being out and being exposed to something that you don’t  normally have the opportunity to see or explore,” says Ramos.

NextWork has already received praise by the Governor’s Office for Workforce Transformation and is considered a model for career and workforce development throughout the state.

Businesses, students and parents interested in learning more about NextWork can visit for more details.