Photo submitted/Paulding County Economic Development Office Pictured is Kyle Harris at a signing event hosted by the Paulding County Economic Development Office. Harris signed on to work at J&J Ag, Grover Hill, as a welder and started immediately upon graduation.

PAULDING – Kyle Harris recently walked across the stage and received his diploma from Paulding High School. Prior to graduating Harris was signed on at J&J Ag in Grover Hill as a welder. While some high school graduates sign on to colleges to play their favorite sport, other, like Harris leave high school ready for a career.

Harris’ path to welding is unique to the county. This year was the first year that college-level welding courses were offered at Paulding High School. This opportunity was created by the collaborative effort of Ohio Means Jobs Office of Defiance and Paulding County, Paulding High School, Paulding High School FFA, Northwest State Community College and the Paulding County Economic Development Office. This pilot program was launched at the beginning of the second semester.

Harris had minimal experience welding prior to this with just a few short lessons while in an agricultural class. Harris stated, “I knew there wouldn’t be an issue finding a job,” and that was a motivating factor for him to take the course. He also knew that welders earned a descent wage.

J&J Ag was one of the employers that were invited to his welding class to observe the students. Harris stated that he submitted a resume and application to one of their representatives. Harris said, “about approximately a month later I received a call for a job offer.” His first day was the day after graduation.

He stated, “I felt almost at home,” during his first week at work. He stated that everyone at work was helpful, showed him around and answered any questions he had.

So far, his experience is, “great. Doing my work [in school] paid off - showing up everyday.”

He states, “[I] plan to stay for a good while and get some good experience.”

Harris’ experience appealed to Lieutenant Governor Husted and it is the perfect example of how his, “Free college? Yes, in Ohio” initiative works.

Husted interviewed Harris via Zoom recently. The focus of the interview was to discuss the ability to earn college credits without paying tuition.

Husted stated, “the cost of college can cost zero dollars if you follow and use the right tools.” He stated that his initiative is blossoming throughout the state. “Schools see the demands that their communities need and are creating partnerships.” He stated that through these collaborative efforts between high schools, trade schools, colleges and other organizations, such as Ohio Means Jobs, the needs of the community are being met.

Harris’ situation offers different avenues. He has the opportunity to stay at J&J Ag and work or he could choose to further his education and earn a degree while working as a welder through an apprenticeship program.

“You can do both - a career path or a college path - one or the other doesn’t have be chosen - [they can] go right along with one another.” Husted commented.

Bringing programs, such as the one at Paulding High School, into high schools only opens the door for more opportunities for students. Students are no longer restricted to two options - traditional class setting or career centers.

During Harris’ interview with Husted, Harris mentioned repeatedly that he knew he “wasn’t a book kid,” giving him, as well as other classmates the opportunity to find their niche not only allows for them to grow but also to navigate their next chapter of life with guidance and support.

Giving students guidance and opportunities as they walk out of their high school doors and into adult life only sets them up to be more capable of successfully transitioning into adulthood.

It is evident that Paulding High School, combined with the collaborative efforts of the above mentioned organizations, that they are getting it right and will continue to send capable adults into the world.