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Butler County Area Vo-Tech students prepare to take the next step

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 7:06 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Sadie Fleeger, 18, practices drawing blood in class at Butler County Vo-tech school Sunday, May 13, 2014.

Springtime signifies new beginnings, especially for high school seniors as they think about upcoming graduation and where life will take them afterward.

So what are Butler County's seniors doing after their high school careers end? For many students at Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School, their training will enable them to jump right into the workforce.

Machine technology student Gregory Branchen, 18, of Penn is interviewing at Penn United Technologies in Cabot in hopes that he'll land a job by the time he graduates. He's excited to join the workforce straight out of high school.

“It's all uphill from here,” Branchen said.

Heavy equipment student Cody Johnston, 17, of Saxonburg was accepted to International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66 where he will go through a paid, four-year apprenticeship before taking a full-time job with the union.

It's a dream come true for Johnston, who grew up on a farm raising horses and cattle and working with machinery.

“It's something I've wanted to do my whole life,” he said.

The vocational-technical school has about 805 students enrolled in 16 programs including heavy equipment, carpentry, graphic arts, culinary arts and cosmetology. Students attend from Butler Area, Karns City, Mars Area, Moniteau, Seneca Valley, Slippery Rock and South Butler school districts.

A study of 306 Butler vo-tech graduates from 2013 found that 92 percent of them had been “gainfully placed” in employment in their field, employment outside their field, military service or pursuing additional education.

There are 400 seniors expected to receive certificates of completion May 28 at Butler County Community College Field House.

Joseph Cunningham, vocational administrative director for the school, said even as the cost of education rises, school districts see the merit in a vocational-technical school like Butler's for the work-ready students it graduates.

“School districts want this,” Cunningham said. “Because of the economy, a lot of people are seeing the cost of a college education is so expensive, and a lot of those students won't be getting jobs when they graduate. Employers are looking for skill-specific individuals.”

The option of getting hands-on training at the vocational-technical school also is attractive for those who want to pursue post-secondary education. The school has agreements with Butler County Community College and other regional technical schools that allow students to get credit hours for completed courses and industry skill certifications.

Health occupations student Sarah Rager, 18, of Saxonburg said she'll have 13 credits when she begins classes at Butler County Community College this summer, thanks to the certifications she's received from vo-tech.

Rager hopes to enter the community college's nursing program next year.

There are dozens of industry certifications available to vo-tech students that can give them advanced placement, higher wages and higher work levels in their field.

During the 2011-12 school year, the most recent year for which data are available, 351 Butler vo-tech students earned 887 certifications, the highest number of certifications earned of any technical school in the state.

“We must never be complacent,” said Cunningham, who's been director of the school for 15 years. “If we're not going to give the best and brightest to business leaders, then shame on us.”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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