FedEx Ground, Aerotech hosted school year’s first two immersion days for Educator in the Workforce

For Natalie Grattan, a Social Studies teacher at Baldwin Whitehall High School who’s involved in shaping a career learning course, a visit to FedEx Ground provided some needed talking points.

“Coming here today, we have more concrete things we can say” to combat the “traditional mentality that everybody has to go to college,” she said during a debriefing at the kickoff session for our Educator in the Workforce (EIW) program. “We learned about people from all different backgrounds, some who started out of high school and became managers.”

A month later, EIW participants visiting Aerotech, Inc., a maker of motion control systems, heard much the same message.

“One of the big things we’re trying to communicate is that you don’t have to start with a four-year degree to be successful,” Vice President of Research & Development Eric Glaser told educators who attended an immersion session to learn about careers in manufacturing. “The majority of our people are in assembly and they’re not degreed.”

Both the FedEx and Aerotech visits were among the “immersion days” that EIW is offering this year to help educators get an understanding of the region’s employment opportunities so that they can support students trying to plan careers.

Kids just out of high school most likely would qualify only for entry level jobs, unless they had some kind of experience to commend them for other work. At FedEx, they might start out as package handlers. At Aerotech, they often start in the storeroom.

Lest anyone wonder why those jobs might be stepping stones, both give employees a view of the respective companies’ operations from the ground up.

Aerotech, for example, inventories some $30 million in highly sophisticated parts. Handling them is no small matter and learning about them is a great way to understand what the company does before moving to other positions, Glaser said.

Like Grattan, other educators both at FedEx and Aerotech generally expressed surprise at the number of positions available without degrees. Many also were somewhat taken back about by employee benefits available to new hires, including tuition reimbursement, as well as the career potential.

Providing opportunities for “cross training” and advancement “is something we really pride ourselves in,” said FedEx Vice President for Human Resources, Denise Abbott, noting that an employee starting at the entry level, as a package handler, can be promoted to a front-line operations manager, for example.

She said FedEx also has taken the tuition support it offers a step further than many employers, providing the benefit as soon as employees enroll in a course, rather than upon completion. “

“It’s a game-changer,” Abbott said, noting that many entry-level employees can’t front the money themselves.

Similarly, Aerotech employees get perks that few companies offer, including profit-sharing and automatic investments in an employee stock ownership plan.

Aerotech also prides itself on “promoting from within” and providing training, including for skills such as machining, said Mechanical Production Manager Anthony Fazzini.

During both visits, educators and company representatives exchanged ideas for future collaborations. At FedEx Ground for example, Yough High School Principal Brian Sutherland suggested that the company’s New Stanton, PA facility might serve as a venue for students to gain work experience while still in school, mirroring a “work study” arrangement the district already has with United Parcel Service.

At Aerotech, numerous educators expressed interest in job-shadows, noting that they help students fulfill state standards pertaining to work-based learning experience, one of three options for demonstrating career readiness before graduation.

Following Aerotech, the Consortium plans an additional 12 site visits for participants in Educator in the Workforce before the end of the current school year.