Two pillars of Henderson, Kentucky are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year. Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group marks its 100th anniversary in 2019, while Henderson County Schools is observing its sesquicentennial anniversary – or 150 years.
“It is hard for me to think about where PTTG would be without our alignment with the Henderson County School System and the local Henderson County Community College,” PTTG President Ben Johnston said.
Johnston was a member of the Henderson County Board of Education for 12 years, serving as the board’s chairman for the last six years of his tenure. He is one of several Pittsburg family employees with strong connections to the school system. Allstate Tower President Keegan O’Daniel formerly served as director of transportation for Henderson County Schools.
“Public education is what sets America apart,” O’Daniel said. “Henderson is unique because we have one (public school) system and one high school. It’s one of the largest employers and largest recruiting pools we as a company have to tap into. Having a relationship where kids are developing the skills that we need early makes the school system invaluable to our success.”
It might not seem like it at first glance, but the two organizations’ histories have been somewhat intertwined for the last quarter century. Henderson County Schools’ mission statement is “to provide extraordinary education opportunities for every student.” The school system offers everything from Gifted and Talented programs and Advanced Placement Classes for academically-minded students to the School of Fine Arts for high school students who are artistically inclined to hands-on training via the high school’s Career and Technical Education Unit.
Not only do CTE students learn in their classrooms, but they also have the chance to co-op or apprentice at local Henderson businesses. Students learn valuable, hands-on in-the-field experience. They are also better positioned to gain full-time employment at the companies they apprentice at once they graduate.
“It allows us to teach them our practices prior to the development of any bad habits,” said O’Daniel. “The student grows faster, and we get to be a part of that growth. We also get to see their work ethic and quality prior to any full-time offers. It’s the best current recruitment program we have.”
Students get to apply and develop their skills simultaneously, which is both rewarding and reaffirming, O’Daniel said. “We all have an innate desire to be part of something larger than ourselves,” he said. “For them to put their skill to work in development of the structures we make is a ‘wow’ moment.” Adding that co-op positions are paid, O’Daniel said, “They get to begin correlating the value of their skill in regard to income and lifestyle.”
Several CTE students have apprenticed at PTTG, either in the Pittsburg or Allstate Tower shops, over the past few decades. In fact, one of the company’s oldest tech unit workers graduated from Henderson County High and has worked at PTTG ever since. In total, about 18 percent of PTTG’s 400-plus employees were once students of the high school’s CTE unit or were enrolled in career and technology classes that pre-dated that program.
Allstate Tower alone has five full-time employees who started as co-op students and five current co-op students who are working part-time. One of those employees is second-shift supervisor Sean Hill, a 2012 HCHS graduate who co-oped during his senior year.
“I was very interested in getting some real work experience in the welding industry,” Hill said.
Through the co-op program, Hill said he learned good safety practices, how to stay positive and optimistic about any situation he was placed in, timeliness with the assigned work schedule and developed a strong work ethic.
“I would say without these skills I would not be in the position I’m in currently today and I wouldn’t have specific outlooks on things that I do now had I not gone down the route I did,” Hill said. He added that he joined Allstate full time after graduation to gain more experience in the welding industry and learn about the fabrication side of the business. He said he has a “love for welding and the good relationships you acquire while working for the PTTG family.”
“With the continued change in dynamics in the worker skill set needed in today’s environment, we feel the earlier we can start introducing the employee into our culture and needs the easier training goes,” said Johnston. “Additionally, we are convinced that by getting them started in a career choice earlier in lieu of later speeds the process up to career-ready and reduces unnecessary debt to the employee.”
Regardless of whether the student becomes an employee or not, Johnston said he hopes the experience is beneficial. He recalled that after two students did summer stints at the shop, it solidified their decisions to attend college. One is currently a local attorney.
“We are a small part of the ecosystem,” said Johnston about PTTG. “For a community to survive and prosper, it needs companies that have good pay, good benefits and growth opportunities. I believe PTTG fits all three of these categories. For a community to be successful it needs both good citizens and good corporate citizens. PTTG strives to be a good corporate citizen.”
Very few businesses manage to survive a century.
“This is truly a milestone event,” said Johnston, adding that the company needs to thank many people for helping PTTG reach its 100th anniversary. “Many are departed but left their mark on the company. Our community leaders have played a part as well at times, such as in 2000 when we decided to move locations and build a new facility. Local businesses that support our need, such as transportation, maintenance, building and grounds upkeep, welding supplies, machine shop needs and the list goes on. The celebration is to thank the employees, the community and the whole food chain of the success story.”
Pittsburg will celebrate its 100th anniversary throughout 2019. The culminating event will be held on Saturday, Aug. 17 in Audubon Mill Park in Downtown Henderson along the Ohio Riverfront. The event is being hosted in conjunction with the local diabetes coalition. The public is invited to enjoy fun, festivities and fireworks at the big centennial celebration.
“Heritage is one of our company values. History is heritage,” said O’Daniel. “Celebrating milestones in that history and knowing where you came from are the building blocks for present-day decisions that will impact the future. Knowing where you came from has a direct impact of understanding where you are going.”
In honor of March being Education Month, PTTG will be hosting a luncheon for high school students entering the workforce. PTTG also plans to hold a recruitment event in May in partnership with the school system. The company will host students for tours on Manufacturing Day in October.
“Both events will focus on the partnership we have had and will continue to have,” said O’Daniel. “It allows us to showcase guaranteed longevity, which is what employees are looking for.”