The perfect fit: Akron grad finds passion within industry hungry for skilled workers

The day of Corey Pettit’s backyard graduation party it rained on and off. But the northern Ohio spring drizzle never dampened the celebration.

The mood was one of joy and success. Sweet success. Eighteen-year-old Corey was graduating from Akron Public Schools and was excited to be done.

Surrounded by 200 family members, friends and mentors, Corey was celebrating with the people who helped him accomplish his goals, and one goal that he checked off his list was finding employment immediately following high school.

“I never wanted to attend college. I did not want any more time sitting in a classroom,” Corey says. With three older sisters who pursued post-secondary degrees, still paying off student debt, Corey knew that wasn’t in his future.

Thanks to Akron Public Schools Online, he was able to follow his own path and take general classes remotely during high school, working on credits at his own pace.

Corey’s teachers and counselor supported the decision to transition online, thinking it would be a good way for Corey to work under a flexible schedule, but still meet weekly with a mentor, and find an elective class outside of his general credits that would set him up for success after graduation.

That’s when he was first introduced to machine shop.

Photo: Corey Pettit poses for a picture at graduation with his kindergarten teacher, Ranay Hatherill.

I never wanted to attend college. I did not want any more time sitting in a classroom.


His mom, Bonnie, was initially surprised by his choice—he didn’t have much experience, and she wondered if his disdain for math would allow him to enjoy or succeed in the trade.

Corey showed little interest in classes that didn’t have a practical application to the real world. He didn’t see the purpose of learning Spanish if he never wanted to travel abroad, and he didn’t understand why advanced level math classes were critical to his success later in life.

But there was a shift in Corey’s mentality as soon as he started taking machine shop.

“He pulled all A’s in that class,” Bonnie recalls. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is making sense to him.’”

During Corey’s senior year he went to school every weekday from 12:45 to 3:15 p.m. for machine shop. He wanted to be a machinist, and this was the most effective, straightforward way to learn the skills. He used milling machines, grinders and other tools to produce precision metal parts. He had to calculate where to make cuts and understand how to select the right tools for each job, plan the sequence of operations, and that involved trigonometry.

But he loved it.

Not everyone is cut out for college. I was able to get on-the-job training and collect a paycheck. It was a lot of hard work, but I had the support from my teachers, counselor, my parents and family.


He loved seeing the end product, and he loved seeing math come together for a logical purpose. He finished his high school credits early, passed his certification test and quickly found a job at a local machine shop, Signature Mold and Fabrication in Akron.

He textures molds and pours molds, does yard work every so often and straightens up around the shop.
Working 40 hours a week just a few miles from home, Corey’s making a living wage—enough to put some cash in the bank, to pay his car insurance and his cell phone bill.

This year, he’ll be eligible for paid time off and benefits.

“I really like my job, Corey says. “I’ve always wanted to do something with my hands, to work hard and be successful.”

But aside from finding a job he enjoys, Corey is also helping fill the workforce gap.

Corey seeking a career in a skilled trade is a success story. He’s a shining example of the kind of employee many northeast Ohio employers are looking for. The workforce and talent misalignment is a problem that Delta Dental and Team NEO have committed to help solve.

According to regional data, about 80,000 manufacturing workers ages 55 and older are planning to leave the labor market, and the attraction of skilled workers is the No. 1 challenge hampering industry growth.
With a demand for more than 21,000 jobs just last year, manufacturing is facing a critical shortage of workers.

Which explains why Corey’s boss, Rick, is so thrilled to have him on payroll.

He’s never had a worker as young as Corey before, but he has been willing to work with him and teach him the skills he needs to do well.

“Not everyone is cut out for college,” Corey says. “I was able to get on-the-job training and collect a paycheck. It was a lot of hard work, but I had the support from my teachers, counselor, my parents and family.”