Pillow sewers

Photo by Michael Johnson

Tammy Faker, of Jordan Manufacturing, weighs a pillow that was stuffed with filling by Roosevelt Middle School student Suri Clemons.

MONTICELLO — A group of Twin Lakes students received some first-hand experience last week about manufacturing awareness and industrial career exploration.

Ivy Tech’s Monticello campus served as the epicenter for workshop activities for White County students, as well as those from other area school districts, during Manufacturing Week 2019 — a program sponsored by Greater Lafayette Commerce to give K-12 students an opportunity to learn about the manufacturing and industry.

“The object is to help students discover manufacturing, understand what career opportunities are out there and available for them, and to let them know what jobs there are,” said Kara Webb, workforce development director for GLC.

Although it has been sponsoring activities and expos for several years, last week’s workshop at Ivy Tech was a first for GLC. It welcomed hundreds of students from White, Carroll and Pulaski counties.

“We may have to expand this site to two weeks next year to cover everyone,” Webb said. “White County alone has four school districts and it’s really handy for Pulaski and Carroll (counties) to be able to come here because it’s so close.”

Webb said the White County workshop was made possible by a grant from the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN).

During the workshop, a group of sixth-grade students from Roosevelt Middle School attempted to construct a tower made of large Lego pieces. It wasn’t part of a building trades lesson, but more geared toward teaching them how those pieces get from Point A to Point B, as well as how to incorporate efficiency and quality into that process.

Another group of students learned about the intricacies of pillow-making, while a third group delved into a White County company’s efforts to innovate the agriculture industry through engineering and innovation.

The volunteers leading those sessions came from Ivy Tech (tower building), Terra Drive Systems (rear-axle drives) and Jordan Manufacturing (pillows). The activities were designed to introduce students to supply chains, production, transportation, and how manufacturing impacts their life.

“We held the first session (Sept. 30) and it was awesome,” said Evan Fitzgerald, workforce project coordinator for GLC, a membership based non-profit organization of small and large businesses, chambers of commerce, economic development and other groups advocating for growth of existing and new businesses in a 10-county area.

The week culminated with “Manufacturing Day 2019,” conducted annually on the first Friday in October, to show students the reality of modern manufacturing careers by encouraging companies and schools to open their doors to students, parents, teachers and community leaders.

While students in elementary and middle school participated in workshops, high school students toured White County manufacturing facilities Ball Corp., Adkev, Jordan Manufacturing and Monticello Spring.

“What we want students to know as they drive by a manufacturing facility is what (employees are) doing in there and what kinds of jobs they have,” Webb said. “Everyone thinks it’s just a production-type thing, but there are all kinds of things involved.”

Webb said there is more to manufacturing than producing a product on an assembly line.

“You have people who design a product, people who produce it, people who transport it — either within the facility or to and from the facility — and people who are support staff such as human resources, legal, medical, sales, etc.,” she said.

Webb said the event won’t happen if not for the participating of numerous educators, manufacturers and community leaders.

“Ivy Tech gave us the space for this type of activity, then there are the manufacturers who bring staff off their floor to talk with the future workforce. It’s the next generation of the workforce they are looking at,” she said.

With an aging workforce, Webb said manufacturers are looking to the future for help in filling those voids that will be coming because of retirements or other factors.

“With workforce numbers and unemployment being so low now, we really have to be mindful of explaining to everyone what is available in manufacturing, what types of careers people can go into, what their wage will be,” she said. “We really want people to stay here, live here and work in the facilities we have here.”

Webb said students and the manufacturing representatives have each enjoyed the experience.

“The students are great and I just love the way the manufacturers just embraced it,” she said. “For the manufacturers, it’s a great way to engage with the community, share the wealth of knowledge they have and show kids what’s inside their facility.”