Amid huge demand, career complex forging future skilled workers

Students are cutting their teeth in a variety of fields at the Saginaw Career Complex.

“This gives them an opportunity to try an occupation on to see if it’s a good fit,” said Jenny Geno, Saginaw Intermediate School District executive director of career and technical education.

Geno oversees the 22 programs at the Saginaw Career Complex, including welding, HVAC and engineering and advanced manufacturing.

“These students earn college credit, they can earn certificates, they can earn sometimes associate’s degrees if they’re part of our CTE early middle college programs, but they’re also earning industry credentials that are absolutely essential for different occupations,” Geno said.

Senior welding student Dylan Medel, of Saginaw, said their teachers are preparing them for the real world.

“Our instructor Chad has us be on time every day and, if we’re not, we’re losing points,” Medel said. “We get docked points if we don’t clean up. It is very much like a job site and they treat us just like we would be on a job.”

Senior welding student Kate Wirostek, of Chesaning, said her instructors have helped her feel prepared to graduate.

“My teachers have just opened my eyes to the whole industry, knowing that I don’t have to do just welding, I can go into basically anything else,” she said.

Crafting these students into skilled workers isn’t just a benefit for them.

“Everybody’s looking for young talent,” said Ron Bell, HVAC instructor.

“There’s places everywhere looking for students nowadays,” said Chad Starr, welding instructor. “We have places calling us looking for students that come from here.”

And that’s where the problem lies. According to the state, there will be roughly 45,000 annual job openings in the professional trades through 2030, and not enough workers to fill them.

“Skilled trades in the region are, for lack of a better term, a dying breed,” said Brandon Calvert, maintenance jobs team leader for Hemlock Semiconductor. “It’s just, the supply isn’t there.”

For local employers like Hemlock Semiconductor, which makes a critical component used in computer chips, hiring has been tough, and it’s only expected to continue.

“We’ve been struggling to find applicants and competent skilled tradesmen to fill our openings presently,” Calvert said. “And with the, the future outlook of the focus on bringing manufacturing back into the U.S., specifically in semi and solar supply chains and even automotive, that demand is just going to continue to grow.”

Keeping these students in mid-Michigan is critical to sparking growth in the local economy.

“Everything is connected to everything,” said Ken Horn, executive vice president of strategic development for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance.

After serving in the state legislature for more than a decade, Horn has seen how critical the Saginaw Career Complex is in providing a pipeline of talent.

“When young people are looking at what to do in this region, they have unlimited opportunities,” Horn said.

“I always tell the students that they need to have confidence, that they know more than what they think they know leaving this program,” Starr said. “They don’t realize the knowledge that they’ve gained while they’ve been here.”

“I’m not telling you they know everything when they leave here, they don’t. But they’ve got a good grasp of multiple things to let them go places and then the rest is up to them how far they want to go and where they’re gonna end up at,” Bell said.

And, with such demand, many of these students have their choice of exactly where they’d like to end up.

Senior Julia Lanczynski, an HVAC student from Chesaning High School, said she’s already turned down one offer as she chases her career dreams.

“I’m hoping to start work-based learning after this semester with a good company from Local 85 because that’s the company I want to go to, the union, and start an apprenticeship, be out of it in five years, and start working for good,” she said.

The Saginaw Career Complex has roughly 1,000 students spread out across its 22 programs.

Geno said the complex’s enrollment has more than doubled since voters passed a critical millage back in 2018 allowing students from anywhere in the county to attend.

As enrollment grows, so do the complex’s offerings. Hemlock Semiconductor told TV5 it is currently working on a youth apprenticeship program that would pay students as they learn.

Geno also said the Saginaw Career Complex is conducting a comprehensive local needs assessment to figure out which programs are in high demand and, therefore, should see more investment.