Inspiring the next generation of manufacturers


Not long ago, high school students would have cringed at the idea of working in a factory or warehouse after graduation.

But times, they have a changed.

Today, schools and industry are partnering to showcase the appeal and benefit of pursuing a career in manufacturing.

From high-paying jobs to the ability to work hands-on with advanced technology and robotics, manufacturing has evolved into one of the most important and in-demand fields in the job market today.

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That change hasn’t gone unnoticed, as students are taking more of an interest in manufacturing and are excited to learn about local career opportunities, some of which may not require a four-year college degree.

On Oct. 10, around 130 Seymour High School students participated in Jackson County’s inaugural Manufacturing Day.

Organized by Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., the event was designed to introduce young people in the community to the manufacturing sector, career opportunities and demonstrate the contributions manufacturing makes to the local economy, said Jackie Hill, workforce director for JCIDC.

Students and teachers were bused to Cummins Seymour Engine Plant to start the day and then broke off into groups to visit other industrial employers, including Aisin, Lannett, Excel Manufacturing and Pet Supplies Plus.

Hill said those companies and JCIDC’s Workforce Partnership are working together to address several issues industries face, including the skilled labor shortage, public image of manufacturing and ongoing prosperity of the whole industry.

That’s where Manufacturing Day plays an important role, Hill said. Although this was the first time it has been observed locally, Manufacturing Day was started nationally in 2012 to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.

Students who participated were chosen by teachers and administrators based on their classes.

“For this inaugural year, we went with SHS students only to get groundwork laid,” Hill said. “We are looking to expand and offer to other high schools in the county next year.”

After a brief overview of Cummins, students took part in short workshops led by employees from all five companies. Breakout sessions hit on topics such as life on a salary, career development maps, internal and external community engagement and being a Jackson County graduate.

After lunch, students were divided into five groups, and each group spent the afternoon at one of the participating companies, where they toured the facilities and took part in different training activities.

Sophomore Sam Allman said the event changed his views on careers in manufacturing.

“I learned there are positions that require more education and get paid more than the positions without higher education,” he said.

He spent the afternoon touring Cummins and was impressed with the work they do to manufacture engines, including their largest engine, the QSK95 or Hedgehog.

“My favorite part of Manufacturing Day was being at Cummins all day and looking at the Hedgehog engine,” he said.

Allman said he plans on going into engineering as a career.

Sophomore Aydon Caudill said he thought Manufacturing Day was informative and a good introduction to the field.

“I got to see how what I’m learning is applied in the workforce,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, but it really excited me to see their role in manufacturing.”

Getting to tour Pet Supplies Plus was a highlight of the day, he said, because he learned more about engineering opportunities in a warehouse setting.

“Manufacturing Day showed me that there’s more to the field than working on an assembly line,” he said.

Owl Manufacturing teacher Curt Schleibaum said Manufacturing Day was a huge success.

He hopes students gained insight into all of the possible career paths in manufacturing, he said.

“During the breakout sessions, our local manufacturing companies did a great job of explaining the many pathways leading into manufacturing, from going to college to starting out of high school and working up from within the company,” he said. “Many students have asked about the pathways at SHS that would help put them on track to enter into manufacturing.”

Schleibaum said many of the students had never been to any of the places they toured.

“I feel this interaction helped them to see how these places could be part of their future,” he said.

At Excel Manufacturing, students rotated through four different stations to learn about quality, CNC machining, process improvement and robotics and engineering and maintenance.

“We tried to get more hands-on and allow the students a real look at CNC machining and the support roles that go into our daily work,” said Excel employee Leah Gillaspy. “Our biggest goal was to show students the depth of manufacturing. It’s so much more than punching a timecard. CNC machining is a skill, and it takes a lot of very talented people to run our business.”

Manufacturing Day is a resource for both companies and students, Gillaspy said.

“We would like to think that we are helping students find their future,” she said. “Life will be a little easier if they can figure out what they want to do prior to leaving high school.

“For Excel, we hope to plant a few seeds along the way,” she added. “If we get the chance to employ a few of these students down the road, that would be great. We feel that this is one way that we can give back to the community so we don’t expect anything in return; however, we have learned in the past that we’ve made a few students curious enough to apply for a job.”

Lindsay Hehman with Aisin said after taking students on a tour of the plant and educating them about the different vehicle parts Aisin manufactures, it was time for some hands-on fun.

“The students participated in a Lego assembly demonstration we use with new members to teach work instructions and the importance of following steps,” she said. “I really wanted to make the students aware of the amount of opportunity here at Aisin. We have jobs that fit several personality and skill levels.”

Sophomore Jenna Wheeler said after her involvement in Manufacturing Day; she wants to work on an assembly line or in human resources.

“This definitely changed my view on manufacturing by showing me not every job in manufacturing involves getting dirty or working long hours,” she said.

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