Education

Voting Closes Today for ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing’ Contest

SHARON, Pa. – For the students from nine schools in Mercer and Lawrence counties competing in this year’s What’s So Cool About Manufacturing? video contest, a win earns them a trophy and a medal. But for the manufacturers they are spotlighting, the contest may plant the seeds for the next generation of workers.

Voting ends at 11:59 p.m. March 20. All videos can be watched and voted on here. There is no limit on how many times you can vote.

“Everybody can vote. This is where it really becomes a community awareness project,” says Laurie Knoll, marketing specialist for the resource center and project manager for the West Central region contest . “We want everybody to look at the videos, maybe learn a little something about a company that’s in their backyard.”

This is the second year for the program in the region and the sixth year in Pennsylvania. During the last school year, 174 middle school teams paired with manufacturers to create their videos. Originally started by the Manufacturers Resource Center in Allentown, Pa., the Northwest Industrial Resource Center in Erie started producing the program regionally last year.

The contest challenges seventh- and eighth-grade students with filming and editing a video package about a manufacturer in their community. The goal is to create awareness within the schools and the community about manufacturing careers, Knoll says.

The response from school districts and manufacturers has been strong, she adds.

“Nationwide, manufacturers are looking at ways to get youth more interested in manufacturing careers,” she says. “And any kind of awareness program that helps do that is of interest to them.”

The program targets middle school students because that is the age where they “really start to think about future careers,” and going to either college or entering a trade, Knoll says. The project gives students an opportunity to see firsthand the type of manufacturing jobs available that they may have not known about, she says.

“Everything from the shop floor and making things, all the way up to engineers who are designing things and all the career options that are available at manufacturing companies,” she says.

Getting students interested in the trades is vital as the manufacturing workforce gets closer to retirement, says Randy Seitz, president and CEO of Penn-Northwest Development Corp. in Sharon. Organizations like Penn-Northwest are doing what they can to build interest in the trades among students so the industry isn’t severely impacted “in the next 10, 15, 20 years when our workforce reaches retirement age,” he says.

“Not every kid is college-bound. And what seems to happen is you have a lot of lost seniors,” Seitz says. “They’re getting ready to graduate, they’re not going into the military, they haven’t been accepted into a college and they think, ‘Where do we go from here?’ We want them to know it’s OK that they’re not college-bound and they can make a tremendous living, get married and raise a family on a manufacturing wage.”

Manufacturers in Mercer County have openings for machine operators they can’t fill, Seitz notes. Manufacturing is still a big part of the county economy and “we want it to be long into the future,” he says.

“We think this initiative – What’s So Cool About Manufacturing – is our opportunity today to begin to introduce young people to the fact that manufacturing is cool,” he says.

Last year, students from Laurel Middle School did a video on Berner International in New Castle and focused on the company’s air curtains, says Matt Pertile, teacher coach for the team. Both he and the five students on the team had never edited video before, so there was a learning curve.

“I don’t think we knew the amount of work involved,” Pertile says.

Still, the students enjoyed the experience, and he and co-adviser Jake Holzhauser are guiding this year’s team of seven based on what they learned last year, he says. High-achieving students were invited to participate both years, and this year 10th-grader Sebastian Shaffer helped with the editing process.

This year’s video focuses more on the process at Wendell August Forge and features the forge’s master die engraver, who for 30-plus years has hand-carved most of its die casts.

The experience opened the students to consider a career in manufacturing, he confirms.

“None of them had any idea what to expect when we walked into Wendell August,” Pertile says. “This isn’t what they thought a manufacturing facility would look like.”

Laurel Middle School is in a rural area and many of the families in the district come from the trades, he says. Pertile, who is also guidance counselor for grades nine through 12, says he is always pushing the trades with the students, something that wasn’t the case when he graduated from high school in 2006, he says.

“That was for the people who couldn’t go to high school with you and had to go to vo-tech,” he says.

Times have changed, he says, and the trades provide a good opportunity for students, “and most kids don’t know about it.” Of each graduating class, 5% to 10% go into a trade and “they end up doing really well.” Some of the top-performing students have gone to trade schools, including electricians, carpenters, boilermakers, plumbers and steamfitters.

“This year, I have a lot interested in heavy operators, master plumbers and the electrician union,” he says.

Once the videos are complete, community members can vote as many times as they want on their favorite, says Northwest Industrial Resource Center’s Knoll. Winners will be recognized at an awards gala on March 28 at the Penn State Shenango Campus.

“Everybody can vote. This is where it really becomes a community awareness project,” Knoll says. “We want everybody to look at the videos, maybe learn a little something about a company that’s in their backyard.”

Northwest Industrial Resource Center is producing the program with support from community partners and sponsors, including Penn-Northwest Development Corp., West Central Job Partnership, Western Reserve Public Media, The Business Journal, Penn State Shenango and SCP Group.

The West Central region of this year’s competition includes these teams and manufacturers:

  • Greenville Junior/Senior High School and Ilsco Extrusions in Greenville.
  • Hickory High School and Wheatland Tube Co. in Wheatland.
  • Jamestown Area Junior/Senior High School and Jamestown Coating Technologies in Jamestown.
  • Lakeview Middle School, Stoneboro, and Penn Stainless Products Inc. in Jackson Center.
  • Mercer Area Middle/High School and Miller Industries in Hermitage.
  • Sharon Middle School and Sharon Tube Co. in Wheatland.
  • Sharpsville Area Middle School and Reynolds Services Inc., Greenville.
  • West Middlesex Junior/Senior High School and Solar Atmospheres in Hermitage.
  • Laurel Middle School and Wendell August Forge in Grove City.

Pictured: Rob Ridgeway, retail director at Wendell August Forge, looks on as students from Laurel Middle School film the die-engraving process.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.