Tiffany Pfeiffer

Tiffany Pfeiffer (right), supply chain coordinator for 360RIZE, watches as a student experiences the Olean 360-degree video company’s virtual reality technology during Friday’s Manufacturing and STEM Fair at Portville Central School. The annual Dream It Do It Western New York event brought together approximately 26 manufacturers and colleges and approximately 1,100 middle and high schools students.

PORTVILLE — Manufacturers at Dream It Do It Western New York’s Manufacturing and STEM Fair on Friday had the goal of dispelling what they say are common misconceptions: local students have to go to college and move out of the area to land a good job.

Many used the opportunity to tell students that not only are they often hiring, but they sometimes don’t look for more than a high school diploma and some additional training.

“I encourage the trades,” said Mike Spateholts, a project manager for Mazza Sheet Metal Inc. in Olean, “and for too long, I think they were kind of seen as a sellout, and I don’t think that’s right.”

The seventh annual event at Portville Central School brought together approximately 26 manufacturers and colleges and approximately 1,100 middle and high schools students from across 17 school districts in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, as well as Pennsylvania. Students visited different vendor tables set up around the gymnasium for a chance to check out technology like virtual reality, and maybe even shake hands with their future boss.

“It’s mainly to open their eyes to what we have right here in Western New York, and especially right here in Cattaraugus County,” said Evelyn Sabina, DIDI-WNY project coordinator. “A lot of people feel they have to do it somewhere else — it’s right here.”

The area has certainly had its manufacturing hardships, including February’s announcement Siemens Power Generation Services plant in Wellsville will close in 2020. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects manufacturing occupations will decline 4.6 percent between 2012 and 2022, however, it also expects over 1.8 million job opportunities in production occupations due to the need to replace workers who change occupations or leave the labor force.

Spateholts and other representatives at Friday’s fair echoed the sentiment of many local manufacturers in recent years: they’re hiring, but there’s simply a shortage of qualified workers.

“We operate at a constant deficit of manpower. We’re always hiring,” Spateholts said. “The biggest trouble we have is you have to be willing to show up in the morning and you have to be willing to work. Be on time and have a work ethic, and we can help with the rest.”

While a four-year college degree is certainly needed for some positions in the field like engineering, manufacturers also stressed to students it’s often not necessary. They told students, who may not have the desire or financial means to attend college, about two-year trade schools and certification courses, as well as apprenticeships and trade unions that will even pay for their education.

“If they want to go to a trade school or even BOCES, that will get their foot in the door. We can train them,” said Dave Ezeilo, a 42-year machinist at Dresser-Rand in Olean.

Ezeilo would know, as he trained fellow machinist Brandon Hallock when Hallock started at Dresser-Rand just out of Bradford (Pa.) High School and two days after turning 18.

“If you do BOCES, there’s a good chance you can get a job out of high school,” said Hallock, who spent three years in BOCES’ machining program before spending the last nine years at Dresser-Rand. “I was very fortunate to get a job right out of high school.”

Jill Stady also noted BOCES programs can prepare students for a job in her family business, Billings Sheet Metal Inc. Friday was the Olean company’s first time at the fair.

“We’re branching out to make manufacturing feel a little bit more appealing to the younger generation because it feels like they’ve kind of ventured away from that for now,” said Stady, head of sales and marketing.

Students certainly seemed more engaged Friday than compared to past years, according to Sabina, who credits the hands-on, interactive activities almost all the manufacturers brought to the fair. She noted the long, almost “Disney World”-esque lines forming around some of the vendor tables.

One of the longest lines formed around 360RIZE and its VR equipment. The Olean 360-degree video showed off its 3D interactive videos of local homes and businesses, which are uploaded on its website, 3dbuilding.tours, as well Street Views in Google Maps.

Tiffany Pfeiffer, supply chain coordinator for 360RIZE, noted students knew more about VR technology than most of the company’s prospective clients.

“These kids really, really get it, and it’s exciting to see them want to know more about it,” she said. “... We want these kids to know that if they’re into technology like this, there are jobs available in this area.”

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at tdinki@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)