Seymour High School’s Owl Manufacturing program is getting a lot of attention.
On Monday, U.S. Ninth District Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Indiana, stopped by the student-led business to see firsthand how the school is training the future workforce to meet the needs of local employers.
“The No. 1 issue I hear from every business, every manufacturer across the district is ‘I cannot find enough skilled people,'” he said.
That’s a problem Owl Manufacturing is hoping to solve by producing knowledgeable and skilled students like senior Dylan Rigdon, who served as president of Owl Manufacturing last year.
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Because of his experiences with the program, Rigdon was able to land an internship at Cummins Inc. this summer and plans to pursue manufacturing as a career after he graduates.
Rigdon took Hollingsworth on a tour of Owl Manufacturing, showing him their equipment, including a Haas CNC Mill large format vinyl printer and cutter for banners, a laser printer/engraver and three-dimensional printers, and explained what products they are able to make.
Seymour High School offers introduction to manufacturing classes for freshmen and sophomores, where they begin to learn some of the equipment and skills needed by local industries. Those students then transition into the Owl Manufacturing advanced program, which operates like any other manufacturing business, supplying products for customers.
“We work hand in hand with an industry cohort to be able to come up with exactly what they want us to be able to do,” teacher Curt Schleibaum said.
One of their customers is Aisin, which relies on Owl Manufacturing to assemble Creform products, including carts and whiteboards, for its factories. Last year, they put together around 25 of the whiteboards and this year have an order for 200 carts.
Aisin recently presented Owl Manufacturing with a $5,000 donation that will allow the business to purchase some tools and supplemental equipment to help with production of the carts and improve existing manufacturing processes, Schleibaum said.
Owl Manufacturing also will be able to produce silk screen T-shirts this year with its newest equipment and already has two orders for more than 800 shirts.
“A lot of the different manufacturing processes they are learning by doing,” Schleibaum said of students.
And the environment is different than a classroom setting where a teacher tells the class what to do.
“It’s not, ‘Hey, you need to do this.’ It’s ‘Figure out what you need to do,'” Schleibaum said.
That’s what makes the program stand out, Rigdon said.
“It’s one of the things we pride ourselves on,” he said. “Getting the students actually engaged, learning how to do it, and companies are just so amazed that right out of high school, we are already using a Haas.”
It’s that kind of training that will make Seymour High School students successful in manufacturing.
“There are so many great careers that are afforded a start in a place like this, with a mill just like this, so I love that,” Hollingsworth said. “This is a great opportunity for students to come out with the skill set and are ready to go at a local manufacturer to be able to get a great career right out of the gate, and that’s really exciting.
“Exciting for them, exciting for the program and it’s also really exciting for these local businesses, too, because they feel like there’s a pathway for them,” he added.
After a 10-week shutdown for the summer, Owl Manufacturing is now in its third year and has doubled in size since last year.
“We have 41 students,” Rigdon said. “That’s a pretty big jump. We had 17 last year.”
And it’s a good thing because they already had more than 30 jobs lined up before school started, Schleibaum said. Of those 32 jobs, they have completed about half of them in just eight days.
“We hit the ground running,” Schleibaum said.
Rigdon credits the increase in enrollment to the type of equipment they have and just word of mouth about the program.
“Our first year, we didn’t have a lot of this stuff,” he said. “People saw what we can do and what we’re capable of, and it really jumped our numbers.”
That’s true for the school’s engineering classes, too, Rigdon said.
Junior Jacob Clark is new to Owl Manufacturing this year and said he decided to enroll because he liked the aspect of hands-on learning.
“For a person like me, I like to make stuff,” he said.
So far, he has liked being able to design products on the computer and then programming and operating the Haas CNC Mill.
He plans to be a mechanic, restoring classic cars, after he graduates, he said.
Schleibaum said the programs allow students to try different areas or cells in order to “access their passion.”
“If they’re not passionate about their cell, we try to find one that they are passionate about,” he said.
Teacher Jeremy Wischmeier said with more students, they are able to departmentalize Owl Manufacturing more.
And it helps with running jobs quicker, Schleibaum added.
“Manufacturing and a lot of the trades haven’t been in the spotlight as they have in the past,” Wischmeier said. “Now that we’re seeing as a society that gap and that change in the demand for those types of jobs, now we’re playing catchup.”
Wischmeier said many people in the community still think Seymour High School doesn’t offer trade or vocational classes.
“They’re just not called shop classes anymore,” he said.
Schleibaum said there is still a public misconception that manufacturing means “no college, no success.”
“That’s just not the way anymore with pathway education,” he said. “You can go on and be very successful going straight into manufacturing and then moving your education through your employer.”
During his visit to Seymour on Monday, Hollingsworth met with a number of local businesses, including Aisin USA Manufacturing, Skaggs Builders Inc. and JCB.
“I bet we were in 10 businesses today,” he said. “Every one of them said, ‘Our No. 1 issue is finding people.'”
But Hollingsworth also said everywhere they went, people talked about Owl Manufacturing.
“People are just so excited about it, the opportunities here and what everybody is learning here. Just the potential for partnerships going down the road, people were really excited,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s impressive. You guys have built a great program and in short order, too. That’s what it’s all about, making sure we align education with opportunities afterwards.”
There is only a handful of similar high school manufacturing programs in the country, Schleibaum said. In Indiana, Madison has a program, and Brown County is getting ready to start one.
“But Seymour is leading the way,” Hollingsworth said.