LIMA — The Lima region is heavy on industry. And in today’s world, that means that places like the University of Northwestern Ohio and Apollo Career Center have to be on the cutting edge of teaching in fields such as robotics and welding.
“This program here currently has a 92% to 95% placement rate, whether it be military, continuing their education or going straight into the job market,” said Toby Prinsen, assistant director of adult education at Apollo. “Locally, that is a huge impact. Everybody’s looking for employees, and they have a hard time finding them. When I taught here, the seniors were traditionally the ones going out to get the jobs, and now the companies are coming and recruiting the juniors to fill those positions because there’s such a need locally.”
The UNOH college of applied technologies boasts an 82% continuation rate and sees students from Apollo, Vantage Career Center in Van Wert and Tri Star Career Compact in Celina pass through its robotics program.
“The region we’re in is a really strong one for our graduates,” said Joe Williams, a robotics instructor at UNOH. “We get a lot of older students in this program. Students who work in the factories as operators see just how much money and opportunity there is, and they come back and come to school here. We’ve got a lot of students who are sent here by their employers, and tuition is covered.”
But students at each of these institutions all have one thing in common: a passion for working with the technologies they are using to learn about their future professions.
Whether it is welding, putting together vehicle parts or working in the medical field, students are using robots, dummies and virtual programs to apply their knowledge.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” Prinsen said about the technology that Apollo students have available to them. “The technology we have here is sometimes better than some of the shops who send us students to stay current with equipment. It’s not cheap. But these are real-world experiences that they are able to have right here inside of our labs.”
For Williams, who went through the robotics program at UNOH learning to use the same robotic arms that students still train on, it was easy to transition to teaching the next generation of students, some of whom have gone on to work at companies such as Tesla.
“It is by far the most rewarding job I have ever had,” he said. “I didn’t come back to school until I was 28, and I fell in love with education just from being here at the school, but to see the progress and growth is amazing. Some of these students didn’t know what end of a screwdriver to use when they first started, and now they’re out in the field and they’re programming multimillion-dollar lines at GM or Honda.”
Williams said the robotics program was so important that his wife went through it.
“She started right after I graduated,” he said. “I saw the value of it in our area, and obviously there are areas across the country where this educational background is valuable. But here in our region, it can’t be beaten. I just take a lot of pride in knowing just how much completion of this program is going to change the lives of my students.”
But what does the future of programs like the applied technology courses at UNOH and Apollo look like?
Williams said that he thinks it will involve getting more connected to programs at Apollo, Tri Star and Vantage.
Apollo, which hosts UNOH and other universities for talks, is interested in similar ideas.
“I would always encourage our kids to go to UNOH for their open house,” Prinsen said “There is a student who is going to go there next year. The kids that have transitioned from here to there have ended up being very successful.”
Williams added the school might have something new coming to campus.
“The school is actively pursuing a program in alternative energy, which would include solar power and wind power,” he said. “As we know, with this big push for electric vehicles, there are going to be a lot of changes to the grid. So we’re going to be looking at a lot of sources of alternative energy.”
Apollo is starting a new program next year as well in a similar vein.
“We’re starting a new program next year, based on the need for an industry that will revolve more around the electromechanical field,” Prinsen said. “This stems from local companies coming to us saying they need equipment service technicians and maintenance technicians. So we’re really excited to get that off the ground for next year.”
Whether the future of industry in the Lima region rests in traditional manufacturing or alternate energy, area institutions are doing their best to prepare students for all possibilities.
Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.