Workforce training for dynamic new careers

Mike White – Program Manager for Manufacturing, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C)–Cleveland, OH

Feature | 30 August 2021
Students at the Cuyahoga Community College - known as Tri-C - receive high-quality training in manufacturing, engineering, machinery and a variety of other trades. Once students graduate, they are assisted in finding well-paid, secure jobs. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
For over 30 years Mike White, who is currently the Program Manager for Advanced Manufacturing, has been dedicated to working at the Cuyahoga Community College, popularly referred to as Tri -C, in Cleveland, Ohio.

“The best thing about working here in this type of work is that you are helping to advance someone’s life’s journey,” Mike says. “You’re helping them get to that next level and that’s rewarding,” he emphasizes.

Tri-C offers a two-year degree program, as well as a one-year certificate in a variety of trades and industries such as food and hospitality, machine learning, and IT. Due to the variety of programs available White says that Tri-C attracts “traditional students that come out of high school, who are looking for a career path to get into.”

Tri-C also has a strong attraction for people looking for better opportunities and new careers. “Folks that may have been in the workforce already” and are looking to switch careers or learn new skills to be eligible for “better and stable careers with benefits” instead of just a job.

Apart from being a Tri -C employee, White is also a proud graduate of the school, which offered him the opportunity to work in engineering and in his current capacity.

Many of the dedicated instructors have already had long careers in fields such as technology and manufacturing. These teachers are deeply committed to helping students advance in their careers. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“I was going to be a forest ranger,” he reveals with a chuckle. “And then I ended up getting married, having kids and needed to buckle down. That’s when I went here, got my two-year degree, transferred to a four-year school, and then I got into industry and started working with my hands,” Mike says.

“Work has a way of defining who you are,” Mike asserts. “You've got to do something for 45 years, and it’s got to be something that you like.” Mike stresses that he absolutely loves working in industry with his hands, as a teacher and mentor to his students, and as a program manager at the community college.

In discussing the skills that are essential for him to do his job, Mike cites communication as the most important, followed by empathy and patience.

“You've got to be able to communicate with other people,” he avers. “And then empathy. Everybody's human and you have to understand they work at different speeds and retain information at different rates, and so you must have patience,” he stresses.

In using his skills, and learning from the students he has worked with, White says it is evident that work is important and that “everybody wants to do better for themselves and provide for their families.”

He describes the trade and apprenticeship programs offered at Tri-C as “making a real comeback especially in the last ten years. “We’re seeing a resurgence where people are interested in finding out more,” he mentions.

Tri-C also caters to older students in search of a career change or learning new skills for a competitive job market. The program offers one-year certifications and two-year degree programs. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Many of those who complete the “apprentice program go on to be plumbers, carpenters, or machinists and they’ve got no college debt and are making good money,” he says with a big smile. Many students who “get a liberal arts degrees, can’t get the jobs” they desire and often have hefty debts to pay back.

“If you go through a quick workforce kind of training you can get your foot in the door to a major company like many of the ones we're working with here,” White says.

He highlights that “one of the benefits of the program I run here is that you get in on the ground floor as a shop level guy, and once you're in that company for one year they have tuition reimbursements,” an offering that is attracting many students to get into the fields of manufacturing, computers and human resources.

Mike notes that technology has impacted on traditional professions and has also created new jobs that didn’t exist previously. In referring to the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine, White says, “the technology is enhanced in that it is computer is in control now, and we’re seeing less people do the manual operations and more of the computer taking control,” which is a clear indication of how computer and automation are impacting and changing many types of work.

Tri-C is the first and largest community college in Ohio and plays a big part in developing much of the workforce in the State. This is essential given the job losses in traditional manufacturing over the last few decades.

Mike believes the institution can help create opportunities for everyone. “Building that middle class back up and having more of a path, where people can come in and be able to move up the ladder a little easier,” he says, will play an instrumental role in helping to “level the playing field a little bit.”

Editor’s Note: Michael White recently retired from TRI-C after over 30 years of service training people in Ohio so they can excel in the world of work.