Local high school students discovered the wonders of manufacturing Friday as they wrapped up their participation in Cleveland Associated Industries’ Manufacturing Week.
This was the first time CAI had hosted a week full of activities to teach students about manufacturing. For several years, CAI has partnered with local schools for activities to mark National Manufacturing Day each October, but a day became a week.
“There are a lot of opportunities for students once they graduate,” said Lisa Pickel, executive director of CAI. “We want to make sure students know about all the opportunities there are in manufacturing. There are good careers waiting for them.”
A total of 10 local manufacturing facilities opened their doors to 10 high school career and technical education classes for tours Friday. This culminated a weeklong partnership which involved many of the students working on special projects.
The 10 partnering companies were Bayer, Cormetech, Eaton Electrical, Hardwick Clothes, Lonza, Mueller Co., Olin Chlor Alkali, Southeastern Container, Wacker Polysilicon and Whirlpool.
CTE classes at Bradley Central High, Cleveland High and Walker Valley High received visits Tuesday from company representatives who taught them about their companies and helped them get started on some special projects.
Each class had the opportunity to partner with a local company for a project with students to make something using the specific skills they are learning.
For example, Michael Kress’ welding class at BCHS made equipment storage hooks and racks to give to their partner, Whirlpool. Meanwhile, students in Shawn Williams’ machining class at BCHS made pipe-measuring tools to help with quality assurance at Mueller Co., which makes pipes and plumbing components.
On Thursday and Friday, these classes had the opportunity to tour the companies’ facilities and present their projects while they were there.
“It was great to see how these students had already been learning about the kinds of things we do and made something we can use on the floor,” said Rodney Hodges, engineering and quality assurance manager at Mueller Co.
Not every class chose to present a project, but every class had the opportunity to learn about local industries. Students learned about the companies’ products, manufacturing processes and career opportunities, as well as the skills needed to succeed in those careers.
Dustin Fromm, a Cleveland High School teacher, said he enjoyed partnering with Southeastern Container to help his students learn more about the manufacturing process. He noted the company has been a “phenomenal partner” throughout the planning process.
Eric Schober, general manager of Southeastern Container, said he was glad to help introduce students to his company for manufacturing week and believes the other participating companies did as well.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to give the students the chance to see what Cleveland has to offer,” Schober said. “People might drive by facilities like this all the time but have no idea what is made inside. Everything from our plastic bottles to M&Ms are made here.”
For the first time, the CAI also included middle school students in its manufacturing awareness activities.
The organization had engineering students in Tennessee Tech University’s Makers on the Move program visit Cleveland Middle, Ocoee Middle and Lake Forest Middle during the week. The local students participated in an activity where they learned about wind power and how wind turbines work.
Jermaine Bowe, STEM teacher at Ocoee Middle School, said he loved seeing his students learn about this technology and practice their problem-solving skills.
“You just can’t replicate experiences like this in a traditional classroom teaching model,” said Bowe. “These kids need things to be hands-on. This creates curiosity, which is critical to problem-solving.”
These activities are expected to become fodder for multiple classroom discussions in the coming days, and Pickel said she hopes it also prompts discussions about students’ career options.
She explained many students grow up thinking manufacturing involves working in a dirty, hot environment. However, thanks to advances in manufacturing, workers are more often working with modern technology in air-conditioned buildings.
Industry leaders urged local students to keep working hard in school and work at developing their industry-related skills. One leader actually advised students to learn to program toy robots in their spare time, rather than spend their spare time playing video games.
“We hope students will realize that what they are learning in school can be applied to fun activities — and great careers,” said Pickel.