Expose Grade School Children to Manufacturing Careers

CANFIELD, Ohio – Exposing children to manufacturing before they get to high school is essential to getting them to consider such a career, advocates said Friday.

How to provide that exposure was among the topics at the roundtable hosted by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown at Mahoning County Career & Technical Center.

It was part of the Cutting Edge Manufacturing Event, held in conjunction with National Manufacturing Day.

One way to present youth to careers in manufacturing is conducting a summer manufacturing campus. Brown, D-Ohio, has worked with Ohio manufacturers and other agencies to organize the camps over the past five years, including the first held in Youngstown.

“What we learned is that kids that may not be thrilled about English classes or history classes can come to this manufacturing camp, and they make stuff,” Brown said. That introduces them to the concept that they could make a living at it and have options other than going to college.

When students are in grades four through six, they’re open to many options as their parents are steering them, said Jennie Andrews, youth program manager for the YMCA of Youngstown. YWCA partners with the Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology to stage its annual Summer Manufacturing Institute.

“SMI is a theory-to-practice camp. It’s not just seeing things,” Andrews said. The program continues to grow, with many participants returning year after year, and older students often serve as mentors to the new participants, she said.

Students visit shop floors where they see what the companies produce and talk to workers, then return to Oh Wow and apply the process they learned to projects they assemble, she continued.

“They’re curious about doing things. That spurs on innovation,” said Tim Harrington, vice president of BOC Water Hydraulics, Salem. His company participates in the summer institutes.

“We need more manufacturers to be open to us bringing kids in,” Andrews said. “These are your future employees. We are creating the future.”

The YWCA wants to expose young girls especially to careers that they could pursue. “That’s when they’re forming their opinions about what kind of classes they would need to get to their career,” Leah Merritt, YWCA of Youngstown executive director. “It is very important that they are exposed early on and frequently.”

At the beginning of the week, girls say they aren’t good at science or math, Andrews said. “But five days later, you just see the light bulbs going on,” she added. “Usually it’s almost a 100% turnaround.”

“We need to make kids curious about this, and we also need to make them understand that this isn’t 1953. This isn’t the old steel mills,” Harrington said. “This is a new era of manufacturing where you’re using computer-programmed equipment. The guys are doing programming. They’re doing engineering.”

“There are some really good blue-collar positions here,” said Claudia Kovach, vice president of City Machine Technologies, a Youngstown machine repair shop. The company offers good positions with benefits that qualified workers can enter rather than attend college, take on debt, and be “light years ahead of somebody studying philosophy and working at Starbucks,” she said.

“We’re busier than ever,” reported BOC’s Harrington. His company manufactures hydraulic systems for the steel, aluminum and oil and gas industries, and there is “a lot of capital investment right now going on,” he said.

Like BOC, Butech Bliss in Salem is benefiting from capital upgrades. The company manufactures custom heavy equipment for the steel industry, pieces in the $5 million to $10 million range, said Matthew Joing, plant manager.

Kovach noted that job seekers need to “have skin in the game” in the form of training, whether it’s attending career tech school or getting a two-year technical degree after high school. “You just can’t graduate high school and expect to be making $15, $20 an hour,” she said.

A fifth of the manufacturing workforce at Valley firms are engineers and the remainder skilled workers, said Michael Hripko, associate vice president of research at Youngstown State University.

That “ecosystem of engineers, maintenance, skilled trades and technicians” is at the heart of the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center under development by YSU and community partners in downtown Youngstown, he said.

The Cutting Edge Manufacturing event drew 800 seventh and eighth grade students from six schools in Mahoning and Columbiana counties as well as the Valley STEM + ME2 Academy at the career center, reported Jessica Cene, community outreach coordinator. The event is “a first step” for students to consider a manufacturing career.

Among the participating schools was Canfield Middle School, which sent its entire eight grade class.

Rachel Camuso, an eighth-grade intervention specialist there, said part of her role is to help erase misconceptions about manufacturing for students and parents.

Students in school use the OhioMeansJobs website, which they can use to take surveys and learn what kind of education is required for various careers and how much they could expect to earn. “It’s easy for the kids to navigate,” she said.

Julie Sansoterra, a Canfield Middle eighth-grader, is interested in engineering and said that wasn’t always the case.

“At first, I really didn’t like it, and it just didn’t interest me,” Sansoterra said. “My older sister showed me things because she’s interested in engineering. She showed me a lot of really cool things you could do with engineering.”

Pictured at top: Tim Harrington, BOC Water Hydraulics, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, Jennie Andrews and Leah Merrit, YWCA of Youngstown, and Matthew Joing, Butech Bliss.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.