Lighting a spark

Hot ideas stir student interest in manufacturing

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 :: Cover Story
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

What goes on in a manufacturing plant may be a mystery to anyone who has never been inside. How do you interest young people in manufacturing careers if they know little to nothing about them?

One thing is certain: Hundreds of manufacturing jobs are going unfilled in Northeast Wisconsin and employers need to be more creative to attract workers. With this in mind, schools, companies and motivated people around Northeast Wisconsin have launched programs to light a spark of interest in manufacturing among youth — and the paradigm is shifting.

Among such programs flaring the enthusiasm for manufacturing is Project G.R.I.L.L. This 30-day program (which stands for Growing Readiness in Learning and Leading) places high school students with large manufacturing companies in Sheboygan County to build a customized barbecue grill from the ground up.

“We partner students from local high schools with manufacturers to give the students a chance to be a part of — and see the inside of — local manufacturing companies so they get a better idea of what is going on in the manufacturing world after college,” says Keith Anderson, chair of Project G.R.I.L.L.

Project G.R.I.L.L. was one of several programs to earn recognition from the NEW Manufacturing Alliance as part of its annual Manufacturing All-Stars program, which for the past four years has shined a spotlight on schools, companies and individuals exemplifying efforts that stir interest in manufacturing careers among youth in the region. It received the Community Partnership Award for its work giving students hands-on technical skills including design, production and distribution of a project they build.

From grill designs that are robotic in movement — like the R2D2 grill — to massive creations like pirate ship grills, students use this program to show that no idea, big or small, is impossible. And the end product acts as a unique trophy to whoever gets it.

“Students usually work with their sponsor one night per week and they start the process by sitting down
and deciding who gets the grill,” Anderson says.

It is determined in advance whether the grill is going to stay with the sponsor, the school or be raffled off. Anderson says that someone in the community might show an interest in the grill, so that becomes the student’s customer in the end.

For successful completion, students receive college credits for being a part of Project G.R.I.L.L. The program also provides a $500 scholarship to one student per high school each year, which has been in effect for the past four years.

Besides manufacturing experience, Project G.R.I.L.L. offers many unique ways for students to gain skills that go hand-in-hand with the manufacturing world.

“Even in the manufacturing world, there is a need for other jobs such as accountants, marketing specialists and other positions,” says Jodie Senglaub, operations recruiting coordinator for Johnsonville Sausage and vice chairperson for Project G.R.I.L.L. “The main goal is to expose the students to the fact that there are great careers within the manufacturing world whether it means working on the floor or in the office.”

To increase the bragging rights and competitive spirit among the groups of students, the unveiling of the projects in May will feature a chance for one team to win the People’s Choice Award, where anyone who attends can vote for what they think is the coolest or most innovative grill.

In addition to Project G.R.I.L.L., the NEW Manufacturing Alliance awarded the following Excellence in Manufacturing/K12 Partnerships Awards, along with a $500 prize, for their role in sparking interest among students in manufacturing careers:


Brighter Image Award:
Appleton Technical Academy (A-Tech)
The school has changed the image of manufacturing careers through its
new charter school, based at Appleton West High School. In the first year (2014-15), 48 students enrolled and now there are 80. A-Tech provides a unique model for a charter school by focusing on preparing students for careers in manufacturing.

Students who graduate from A-Tech are prepared to directly enter the workforce via job training or an apprenticeship. They are also ready
to attend a two-year community college, technical school or four-
year university.


Career Pathmaker, Administrator Award:
Nick Cochart, district administrator, Algoma School District
Cochart was chosen for his work in connecting students with manufacturing opportunities and helping shape the technology programming at the school. Cochart received multiple nominations, due to his partnerships with the industry including the high school’s Wolf
Tech, a student-run manufacturing machine shop.


Career Pathmaker, Educator Award:
Sara Greenwood and Marci Kuhn, Mishicot High School
Greenwood and Kuhn were chosen for the impact they have on students’ career paths by facilitating weekly 25-minute advisement periods and career portfolios. These advising sessions help students understand careers that are available to them after high school, and ensure the students are college- and career-ready by the time they graduate.


Career Pathmaker, Technical Education Teacher Award:
Greg Gritt, Plymouth High School
Gritt was chosen for spearheading the transformation of the technology wing at Plymouth High School, called the LTC/Plymouth Science and Technology Center. Since opening, the high school has seen an increase of students enrolling in the center.


Manufacturing Partnership Award:
Denmark High School
Denmark High School was chosen for being a partner with the NEW Manufacturing Alliance. Principal Oran Nehls serves on the alliance’s K-12 taskforce and works with manufacturers to help students
learn about careers in manufacturing. A recent project of the school was
an activity with KI Industries, in which students were challenged
to find a solution to a manufacturing problem.


Education Innovation Award:
Green Bay Area Public School District
The Green Bay Area Public School District was chosen for showing students what it is like working in a manufacturing company by working in partnership with multiple companies. These include Georgia-Pacific, Lindquist Machine and Hudson Sharpe.

Lori Peacock, director of college, career and community readiness at the Green Bay Area Public School District, says that getting students involved with manufacturing early
is changing their mindset of careers in manufacturing. Through programs like Bay Link Manufacturing, which gives students hands-on training
and experience, Peacock says she
sees a big difference in the number of students who want to pursue a career in manufacturing.

“Bay Link not only teaches high school courses, but those courses are also transcribed with NWTC so a student who completes a year at Bay Link Manufacturing already has five college credits,” Peacock says. “This also runs like a small business so students get that academic opportunity, and also the career readiness side.”

Peacock says outside of manufacturing skills, the students learn and execute sales calls to customers, follow up with them and learn how to bid on jobs and schedule the work to be done. She also says that students who are hesitant about working in manufacturing leave Bay Link with a different outlook.

“When we interview the students, the thing they mention the most is the fact that they appreciate learning the employability skills because that was harder to learn,” Peacock says.



In alliance with educational systems, manufacturers are also providing ways to get more people involved in manufacturing. The NEW Manufacturing Alliance announced the following awards to manufacturers working to strengthen the industry and building a skilled labor pool:


Brighter Image Award:  
Laminations/Great Northern Corp.

Laminations/Great Northern Corp. was chosen for the award to recognize CEO John Davis as a founding member of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance and past
chair for the organization. The company also partners with GPS Education Partners and has made a difference in young people’s lives, changing the image of manufacturing and showing opportunities available to them.


Educational Partnership Award:
Curt G. Joa Company
Curt G. Joa Company received the Educational Partnership Award for its partnership with Plymouth High School by engaging both educators and students into the company. Company leaders saw an opportunity to improve instruction and give insight for curriculum and instruction in the area of technology education and engineering. The company
also offered the opportunity for instructor training through summer employment to help instructors gain better insight of what is expected of students going into the industry.


Leadership Award:
Georgia Pacific
Georgia Pacific received the Leadership Award because of the company’s involvement with STEM programs. Georgia Pacific gives financial resources in multiple STEM programs at area schools and has donated equipment to Bay Link Manufacturing for student use at Green Bay West High School.


Youth Apprenticeship Award:
Kohler Co.
Kohler received the Youth Apprenticeship Award for being a leader in offering multiple youth apprenticeships. A company employee, Terry Felsinger, created the industrial equipment career pathway that allows students to get hands-on experience within that field.


Visionary Award:
Paul Bartelt, Vollrath Co.
Bartelt received the visionary award after receiving multiple nominations for having invested financial resources and time to Red Raider Manufacturing at Sheboygan School District. Red Raider Manufacturing helps students graduate with a high level of technical skill and ability.


Manufacturing Innovation Award:
Waupaca Foundry
As the winner of the Manufacturing Innovation Award, Waupaca Foundry has a unique way of bringing the company to the students. The company’s “Foundry in a Box” is a traveling foundry where students can practice real scenarios on scaled-
down equipment.

“It’s basically a scaled-down version of a foundry,” says Joey Leonard, executive vice president, human resources for Waupaca Foundry. “It’s stripped down and is pretty much the size of a large suitcase and contains equipment to melt some metal.”

This innovative approach supplies students with a device to melt metal, sand and flasks so they can see how the entire casting process works.

“We found that the schools that we brought it into, the students have been very engaged in it, even the students that might not normally be hands-on type students,” Leonard says.

Even though the concept of bringing the company to students is a model that is unique, Leonard says in order to keep the momentum going, future steps will be taken to ensure students have access to all of the skills and knowledge they need before graduation.

“The foundry isn’t just about the mold making and the casting manufacturing, but it is about maintenance on the equipment, setting up automation and other
jobs most people do not associate with a manufacturing career,” Leonard says. “Once we build a program that puts all of that together, it will only increase the success rate of students graduating with manufacturing skills already under their belt.”