CBIA BizCast: Manufacturing the Future Workforce
Nearly 600 middle and high school students from two dozen schools spent part of a recent school day exploring career opportunities in Connecticut’s manufacturing workforce.
They took part in the Explore Manufacturing roadshow Sept. 28 at Dodd Stadium in Norwich.
ReadyCT, the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance Regional Sector Partnership, Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, and the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce collaborated on the event.
It was a chance for more than two dozen manufacturers and training and support organizations in attendance to meet young people, and expose them to the industry.
“We’re really excited to really plant seeds early of manufacturing in young people’s minds,” said Chris Jewell, president of Collins & Jewell Company and EAMA RSP president.
“With the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth graders, it’s more of just exploring, getting an interest, realizing what they can do with their hands, realizing that manufacturing isn’t the dark, dirty, dingy that their grandparents thought it was.
“It’s clean, green, efficient, high tech, you know, very computer technology based.”
Jewell said manufacturers impressed him with their presentations.
For example, Rand-Whitney used hands-on demonstrations to show how paper is made. They also displayed banners highlighting their ties to the Kraft family, who also owns the New England Patriots.
Westminster Tool had interactive games for students to play to highlight the work they do.
“There’s a lot of hands-on opportunities,” said ReadyCT president Shannon Marimón.
“Students are making paper, they’re learning about how golf balls are made, they’re working in VR headsets and learning about the world of manufacturing in a very tangible way.”
As a steel fabricator, Jewell said his company brought a 400-ton stand to demonstrate the strength of their products.
“We want interactivity,” he said. “We want kids to be able to touch and feel stuff.”
“It’s cool because it’s interactive,” added Bacon Academy senior Sam Ringuette. “It’s hands on, it’s projects that you like, you know, it’s meaningful, you get to create something.”
Engaging with Students
And Jewell said the students took advantage of the event, and engaged with the different companies.
“I was sitting at our table listening to some of the questions, and they’re really inquisitive,” he said.
“They all want to know about the money, which that’s fine. We’re not afraid to talk about the money.
“What we really need people to understand is that manufacturing is a career. It’s something that there are many pathways, you can start in one place and end up in a very different place.”
And Jewell said it’s events like the roadshow are also important because they show kids that they don’t have to decide the rest of their lives at 18.
“See what you’re interested in,” he said. “And then focus your education on that thing that you found out you’re interested in. We need to have people understand that there’s a lot of options out there.”
He said that engaging with young is a key part of solving the state’s workforce challenges.
“Getting work is the easy part,” he said. “Getting people to get the work done is the hard part.”
“The hiring landscape is so competitive right now. I mean, the compensation has gone up dramatically, everybody has been really fighting for the same people.”
He added that many companies aren’t necessarily looking for a particular skill set.
“We believe in hire for character, train for skill,” he said.
“We will train you on what you need to know to be successful in your career. You just have to have those right values, those right characters.”
Jewell said partnerships with groups like the ReadyCT, the Eastern Workforce Investment Board, and the Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce are important to engage with students, schools, and parents.
“It really takes a team to pull this all together and we’re really thrilled to be part of that partnership,” added Marimón.
Set for Success
Students said getting involved with manufacturing at a young age is already setting them up for success.
“I’m interested in EB,” said Bacon Academy senior Logan Dimitri. “I got a job there right now. So right out of high school, I’m going in there.
“It’s nice, you know you always have somewhere to go, you don’t have to worry about having to find something.”
Jewell said companies who connect with younger students may not see results right away, but added “you’ve got to be patient, you got to take your time.”
“It’s going to take three or four years before you really get the ROI on that effort that you’re putting in,” he said.
“Because again, I’m talking to a sixth grader that I’m not going to see for seven years.”
‘Swinging for the Fences’
But he said the commitment is worth it.
“I’ve got this young girl Grace that works for me,” he said. “Came right out of RHAM high school. She is just absolutely killing the game. So that’s the stuff that drives you.”
“You don’t know how it’s gonna play out, you know, you’re always gonna strike out if you never swing. We’re swinging for the fences every day.”
And Jewell said being part of efforts like this are important not just for his business, but also to leave a legacy.
“My grandfather told me a lot of things back in the day that I hold heart to heart, one of which was ‘you can’t complain about the problem if you’re not willing to be part of the solution,’” he said.
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