Kewaunee County freshmen get a look at local job opportunities, tour Algoma factories
ALGOMA – Kewaunee County ninth-grade students not only got an up-close look at local manufacturers recently, but also learned that those manufacturers are looking for more than just builders and tradespeople.
Sponsored by the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp., the second-annual Manufacturing Career Day, held Oct. 15, saw all freshmen at Luxemburg-Casco, Kewaunee and Algoma high schools — about 229 of them — tour Algoma-based manufacturing businesses Olson Fabrication, Multi-Color Corp. and CTI Hospitality, Inc. and try a few hands-on activities.
Also, eight breakout sessions to explore other careers were held with other local businesses and service providers, ranging from farming to technology to banking.
Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Richard Baker said it's important for students at this age to learn about jobs that match their current interests. He cited a study that indicates 85 percent of high school sophomores who say they'll pursue a certain career or study path are still on that same path when they graduate high school.
The idea, Baker said, is to catch the students as freshmen and show them what's available, especially locally, to perhaps guide them along specific paths.
"The key is the exposure of these students to manufacturing careers," Baker said.
Baker noted that manufacturing represents the largest employment sector in Kewaunee County, accounting for 29.3 percent of primary jobs — 1,809 of 6,173 workers — while the agriculture business accounts for about 14 percent. He also said a number of manufacturers and larger businesses have nine to 12 vacancies or more.
While the hope is to encourage students to consider working in the county after their school days are over, that doesn't mean Career Day encourages them to skip college or technical school to seek jobs with these businesses, said Jen Johnson, Ahnapee Regional Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator, who headed the organization of this year's program.
"One of the goals … is we really want to prepare students to be college-ready and career-ready when they graduate from the schools," Johnson said. "It also gives students exposure to local businesses."
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Interactive stations allow the students to try some of the tasks and skills that may be needed by the manufacturers, but those skills aren't necessarily a requirement for some of the positions they offer.
Johnson said part of the reason for the event was to show the ninth-graders that although these businesses provide specific services — heavy steel work for Olson Fabrication; label design and printing for Multi-Color; millwork, casework and design for hotel interiors at CTI — they offer a variety of career opportunities. One could work in positions related to human resources, finance, logistics or technology instead of machining or design.
"We're focusing on manufacturers, but that doesn't mean you have to be on the floor (if employed by them)," Johnson said. "We're exposing (students) to the breadth of what the business does … Each business discussed numerous other career pathways in their industry, besides pure manufacturing."
"There's human resources, there's information technology. All these manufacturers have all these other kinds of careers," Baker said. "When people, not just students, think of manufacturing, they usually think of working the line. They don't think of all the other support positions."
Johnson said the facilities hosting the event appreciate the chance to demonstrate that to the students.
"They get out of it the opportunity to educate students about what they do," Johnson said, "how they can grow with this organization. It helps the students understand what they can get out of this area."
Steve Miller, vice-president of operations for Multi-Color, said the event not only shows the students what the Multi-Color does but also educates those whose parents work there; the students may drive past the facility and know a little about Multi-Color and what their parents do but otherwise don't get a look inside or understand what happens there.
"It's a community service (for) the kids," Miller said. "The entire day was highly interactive."
A complementary component to Manufacturing Career Day is showing the students they can find careers without leaving Kewaunee County permanently after graduation.
With the event just in its second year, Baker said it's too soon to tell if it will help slow the "brain drain" that plagues many smaller, rural counties, but it's a step in the right direction. Even if a local graduate heads off to college and then works a few years somewhere else, Baker said he thinks the event helps that student realize the opportunities available back home and return when he or she is ready to settle down.
"It's that opportunity (for the students) to see what's going on in our back yard," he said. "You won't see the results for 10 or 15 years, but if we don't do something now, that 'brain drain' continues."
"We've had students say they'd absolutely love to work for Olson Fabrication (after taking part in Career Day), how can I get into that business, for example," Johnson said.
"It's just great to see that 'A-ha!' moment. It's part of helping them learn, see what their passion is, then see their faces light up and realize they could be doing that in Kewaunee County."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County freshmen get a look at local job opportunities, tour Algoma factories