Beginning a career in manufacturing after high school can pay off fast, said industry rep. Angie Huyghe.
An apprentice in the toolroom can make a total $160,160 in the first four years after graduating from high school. By that time, a student at a four-year university could easily accumulate $80,000 in debt.
“That’s a significant amount of money,” said Huyghe, finance and human resources manager for the Kentwood-based company Swoboda. “That’s a house and a car.”
Nearly 1,000 local students participated in Manufacturing Week in Kent County recently, visiting facilities, meeting engineers and programmers, and getting a glimpse of what a career in manufacturing involves. There were 25 events and 56 different stops involving 23 companies across the county.
Elementary through high school students participated from Grand Rapids, Byron Center, Kent Career Tech Center, Kelloggsville, Comstock Park, Godwin Heights, Kenowa Hills, Northview, Kentwood, Godfrey-Lee and Rockford.
At Swoboda, East Kentwood students toured all areas of the manufacturing floor, where constantly moving high-tech robots and machines sent parts through the entire production process.
Senior C.K. Ding said he’s interested in going into engineering and mechanics after graduating. “I wanted to see how people really work in the real world, how machines function and things like that.”
Sophomore Lauren Mackeigan attended because of her interest in industrial design. “Everything that I’ve seen is pretty interesting, especially the mechanics behind how things are made,” she said. “Everything I’ve seen has been valuable for what I want to do.”
In Michigan, one in six jobs is in manufacturing, from working on the floor to accounting to information technologies, said Amy Pierce, Kent ISD career exploration coordinator. Every dollar of finished product in manufacturing has a multiplier of $1.40 that goes into other industries in Michigan, she said.
“Kids in K-12 will eventually work in the industry or have a link to the industry, so they need to understand what it is, Pierce said. Amy and her colleagues from Kent ISD’s Career Readiness Department helped connect the students to this week-long exploration.
Companies Benefit Too
Manufacturing Week was a boost for companies trying to attract their future workforce. “We really are looking to get kids interested in manufacturing, primarily skilled trades,” Huyghe said. “In a few years, there’s going to be a big gap and we want to be prepared for that.
According to Michigan Works Jobs in Demand List 2015, demand for many types of manufacturing jobs is projected to increase by 10 percent or more by 2018, compared to 2012.
At Swoboda, one way to try to meet that demand is through its toolroom apprentice program, a 100-percent employer-sponsored apprentice program that requires a three-year commitment to work for the company. They plan to expand that apprenticeship to technician and mechatronics jobs. They’ve also expanded the engineering program with co-ops and interns.
“We want students to understand there are a lot of opportunities out there besides just going to a four-year college and having no idea what you want to do,” Huyghe said.