Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing in Columbus is changing the way younger generations view factory jobs.

The company, which produces forklifts and lift trucks, recently brought its Mobile Manufacturing Experience to the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour in an effort to get more teens interested in jobs in the industry.

The library was the first site here to host the company’s new outreach program.

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Participants could get a better idea of what kind of skills are needed and the technology used in today’s modern manufacturing environment.

Different training workstations or what Toyota calls “dojos” were set up in the library meeting room for two days to give teens and adults an opportunity to get hands-on experience in several areas of Toyota’s manufacturing process, including production assembly, quality control, welding and painting.

The dojos are the same ones Toyota uses for employee training, said Bill Johnson, manager of human resources, compliance and training.

Johnson said what the company was finding out when hiring new employees is there is a “huge lack of training” for basic manufacturing skills.

“Too many kids have the perception that working in a factory is dull, boring, dark and dirty work,” he said. “So for us, it became important to change that view. We had to come up with a way to show them that a career in manufacturing is fast-paced and high-tech, and it can be fun and something they want to do.”

The only way to do that, he said, was by showing them how the technology works and “letting them get their hands” on it, which led to the Mobile Manufacturing Experience.

At one station, participants raced to see who could pick up 20 wooden pegs from a board, flip them over and reinsert them back into the holes the fastest. The idea was to increase speed, agility and hand-eye coordination, finding the most efficient way to hold one’s hands to pick up the pegs.

Another dojo required the person to follow directions closely to quickly wrap a bungee cord in the correct way around a dozen gears. It required people to look ahead and begin planning the next step before taking it. One mistake meant there would be a defect in the product.

One of the most popular stations was a virtual welding booth, where participants could slip on a helmet and glasses and try their hand at welding through a virtual simulation. A spray paint booth using water instead of paint showed people the proper way to use the equipment to make sure the optimum amount of “paint” was applied.

Toyota is planning to bring its Mobile Manufacturing Experience to other local events, Johnson said.

Charles Reed, a student at Seymour High School, said the dojos were fun and he thought he would like working for the company.

“I think it’s a good career, and it’s something I might get into,” he said.

Johnson said the company wants to reach all students to show them that manufacturing can be a great career choice.

“Manufacturing has changed in 40 years, and there are a lot of opportunities in this field to make a good living and enjoy what you do,” he said. “We’re looking for students right out of high school who want to start their careers now and those students who plan to go to college but want to get a little experience under their belts first.”

The Mobile Manufacturing Experience was just one activity the library offered as part of Teen Tech Week from March 7 to 11.

Other programs included one on Spheros (think Star Wars’ BB-8 droid) robotics presented by Seymour Middle School technology teacher Curt Schleibaum and a presentation about making the Cummins QSK95 “Hedgehog” engine with engineer Gregg Stephani.

Although participation was good, Jill Willey, library youth services assistant, hopes to increase their numbers next year.

“My hope is that teens saw how fun and exciting technology can be and learned valuable, real-world applications,” she said.

Willey said her favorite activity was the Spheros robots.

“I hadn’t gotten a chance to use them before, so it was fun to try out,” she said.

The Jackson County Public Library observes Teen Tech Week annually in conjunction with the Young Adult Library Services Association.

“We celebrate Teen Tech Week so teens are able to have exposure to current and emerging technology, as they might not have a chance to otherwise,” Willey said. “We promote technology at this age because we want the teens to know what job options are available and so they will have an appreciation for technology. We want them to succeed.”

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