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Students learn manufacturing jobs not all ‘greasy and grimy’

Tour of local plants showcases career possibilities

Kenowa HillsPathways High School students are exploring career opportunities in their own backyard. 

During Discover Manufacturing Week, Pathways Principal Jared Herron and a group of students visited three local companies to learn about what education and skills different jobs require. 

“Our goal is to see what different companies are like and their workplace environments,” Herron said. “We’re also removing the transportation barrier for our students to get out in the community and see what career opportunities they have.” 

On their first visit, the high schoolers went to Specialty Tooling Systems, an engineering and automotive manufacturing company in Walker. Plant Manager Brian Heitzman explained the different ways high school students can pursue internships during the summer and apprenticeships after graduation. 

Specialty Tooling System Plant Manager Brian Heitzman shows Pathways High School students sheet metal blanks to be welded by machines

Junior Christian Meyers-Wilson said he felt encouraged hearing Heitzman say previous Kenowa Hills students are working for his company and attending classes once a week at Grand Rapids Community College’s workforce training program

“I like the possibility of going to work there without college needed,” Christian said. “There are two fellow Kenowa Hills students already working there, so it really gives us encouragement to join.” 

Out on the floor touring the STS assembly facility, Heitzman explained different processes of welding, the kinds of machines they use and parts of cars they may have seen in everyday life.

Senior Kamron Goodwin said he liked seeing all the parts welded and manufactured for cars.

“I’ve always liked car stuff,” he said. “I could see myself working in automotive manufacturing.” 

‘Getting young men and women out of their buildings and into facilities where they can see, feel and touch — what a great chance to plant some seeds.’

— Ryan Graham, Kent ISD director of Workforce Development

Generating Awareness and Connections 

Herron said Pathways’ partnership with Kent ISD’s workforce development program is what made these opportunities available to its students.

Ryan Graham, Kent ISD director of Workforce Development, serves as a team member on the board for Discover Manufacturing.

Kent ISD Workforce Development Director Ryan Graham with a list of local businesses and industries that partner with Kent Career Tech Center

“Manufacturing Week highlights manufacturing as such a strong backbone in West Michigan and breaks down some of those old stereotypes … that manufacturing is greasy and grimy,” Graham said. 

To connect local industries with students, Kent ISD’s Workforce Development Team is in the process of launching Business ConnectED, informational sessions designed to generate awareness of different industries and create career exploration opportunities. 

In addition, Career Chats launched earlier this year as a part of Kent ISD’s new Career and Talent Development initiative.  

“Getting young men and women out of their buildings and into facilities where they can see, feel and touch — what a great chance to plant some seeds,” Graham said. 

Pathways is doing the work to create awareness and opportunities for exploration, he added. 

“Jared (Herron) and his team do a wonderful job of participating in these events to provide knowledge of the great career paths in manufacturing,” Graham said. “Pathways helps students make a plan and that plan is to go out and explore.” 

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Apple a day & making time for play
Alternative school helped alums find pathways to success

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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