Changing kids’ perceptions about manufacturing

Success Stories | Milwaukee 7

Amazon teamed up with the Kenosha Boys & Girls Club to give kids gifts from their wish lists.

Finding workers with the right skills is an issue throughout Wisconsin, but in Waukesha County a manufacturers’ group has teamed up with local schools and Waukesha County Technical College to present manufacturing in a new light to students who wrongly believed the industry was dirty, dangerous and boring.

School2Skills helps students better understand manufacturing's professional opportunities.
School2Skills helps students better understand manufacturing’s professional opportunities.

The result is School2Skills, run by the Waukesha County Manufacturing Alliance, a program of the Waukesha County Business Alliance (WCBA). Manufacturing jobs make up about 20 percent of all jobs in the county, said Amanda Payne, vice president of public policy for the WCBA. Once leaders came together to discuss key issues, finding enough skilled workers and filling the talent pipeline quickly became the hot topics.

As part of School2Skills, the Waukesha Manufacturing Alliance holds tours at local companies in the fall and spring. They work with high schools throughout the county to find manufacturers near their schools.

“We’ve discovered when you get students in a manufacturing setting, their perceptions change,” Payne said. “They go in and see these modern, clean facilities and the wonderful job and career opportunities available. We like to take kids in places they may pass by every day, but have no idea what’s it’s like inside. We have such amazing, modern facilities in our county.”

Each student group visits three manufacturers before heading to WCTC where they learn about different training and education programs. Students take a survey before and after the tours to gauge how their perceptions of manufacturing changed. Since the program started five years ago, more than 1,900 students have participated.

“The result is amazing,” Payne said of the survey results. “Kids don’t realize all the technology being used or how automated everything is.”

Jim Zaiser, president and CEO of HydroThermal Corp., agreed. He said the program helps change perceptions about manufacturing jobs, including those at his company, which manufactures direct steam injection systems.

“The School2Skills program allows those students, teachers and parents to see, touch and understand the ‘new manufacturing era.’ Shop floors are no longer dirty, dark and unsafe,” he said. “They are usually clean and high-tech settings.”

Students also learn about well-paying careers that don’t involve a four-year college degree, Zaiser said.

“The program also provides the students with another ‘choice’ in the future of their educational path,” adding that welders, CNC operators and general machinists are sought-after in today’s workplace.

Payne said each manufacturing tour is a bit different, but all provide students with some basic information about the company, the types of jobs available and a tour. Some companies give students hands-on opportunities during the visit while others may play games to see how much they know about manufacturing and what’s made at the plant.

The students participating in School2Skills are picked by the local high schools, Payne said. Some schools take students enrolled in particular classes while others open it up to all students.

“We have a wonderful partnership between the schools, the technical college and the local manufacturers,” she said.

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