Butler Tech student Randy Owens, middle, holds up a shirt for his new employer, Richards Industries, during a signing day ceremony at Butler Tech in Fairfield Township Friday, April 12, 2019. Twenty-five students signed to work for companies they did internships with during the school year. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Why Butler Tech? U.S. Education Secretary’s visit highlights unique ways the district prepares students

The “Manufacturing Recognition and Signing Day Celebration” saw U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos join in to congratulate dozens of soon-to-be-gainfully-employed teens.

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The visit by the high-ranking federal official, which was first reported this week by the Journal-News, and her tour of a Butler Tech precision manufacturing class was a first for the Butler County career school.

DeVos praised the school system, saying, “you are doing such remarkable things in offering opportunities to students.”

The leader of the U.S. Department of Education described Butler Tech’s signing ceremony – modeled after prep athletes signing scholarship offers to colleges - as “an exciting and fitting way to recognize what you all have accomplished” as a school auditorium crowd of more than 200 looked on.

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“What you are doing here today is as important and notable as any other signing day,” she said of the seniors who signed letters of intent for jobs and co-op internships.

After the ceremony, DeVos toured the precision manufacturing lab and marveled at the work done by students.

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America’s need for manufacturing industries is key to the nation’s future and Butler Tech’s many programs are playing a leadership role in the region, she said.

The demand to fill jobs remains a constant, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, whose recent job surveys show the average worker in the industry earns about $82,000 annually.

“We need to make stuff. Manufacturing is such a key part of our economy overall and I think we are seeing a resurgence in the interest in manufacturing,” DeVos said.

“It’s fun to be at a place (Butler Tech) that is just bustling with that kind of activity in a region that really values and supports manufacturing.”

Butler Tech Superintendent Jon Graft said DeVos’ visit was historic for the district, which serves all of Butler County’s public school systems and Northwest Schools in northern Hamilton County.

“We’re honored to have Secretary DeVos here celebrating our students and celebrating manufacturing. It’s really a testimony of what is happening in the Midwest because there is a resurgence in skilled manufacturing,” said Graft.

Also in attendance was Ohio Congressman Warren Davidson (R-Troy), who spent years creating and operating manufacturing companies before seeking political office.

“Manufacturing has long been the backbone of our economy, and as such, the dangers of a widening skills gap are economically significant,” Davidson said.

“Having spent fifteen years starting and growing manufacturing companies, I know firsthand what it’s like to have insufficient supply of skilled workers. I applaud Secretary DeVos’ visit today. It’s a crowning moment for these young adults and their future careers and a highlight for what Butler Tech is doing to train the next generation of manufacturing workers.”

Sitting in the audience were the parents of senior Isaac Gebhardt. His mother, Angela Gebhardt, cheered as the teen signed a employment intent offer to work as a welder with General Tool Company.

“Butler Tech has been a wonderful experience for Isaac and he has thoroughly enjoyed it and he is excelling in the welding industry already. Butler Tech steers them (students) in the right direction,” Gebhardt said.

General Tool Manager Tim Waldron said he was impressed with Gebhardt and the six other students working in fabricating and machining for the Reading-based company.

“Butler Tech is doing a world-class job of getting its students ready to contribute to their employers on day one,” Waldron said.

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