Premier partnerships

NEWMA K-12 awards celebrate business-education collaborations

Posted on Nov 14, 2018 :: Education and Training
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

With the need for talent greater than ever, forging relationships between the business and education communities to present manufacturing as an appealing and rewarding career
path is vital.

The NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s Excellence in Manufacturing K-12 Partnerships Awards are all about honoring those connections. This year’s awards brought a record number of nominees, and a dinner held in October recognized 15 outstanding individuals, companies and schools.

With the awards program in its seventh year, manufacturers and schools continue to find innovative ways to work together to introduce students to careers, brighten the image of manufacturing and, in some cases, forge connections that lead to apprenticeships or jobs.

Since 2016, Wabeno High School, which won NEWMA’s Manufacturing Partnership Award, has brought students to tour Mountain’s Nicolet Plastics. The company also works closely with the school on its fab lab and has hosted two Wabeno teachers for externships aimed at educating them about manufacturing.

Tyler Harris, who toured Nicolet Plastics as a sophomore at Wabeno High School, decided on the spot that he wanted to work for the company, going so far as to apply for a training coordinator position.

Lisa Pichotta, human resources manager for Nicolet Plastics, decided she needed to meet this ambitious 15-year-old. She interviewed him and broke it to him that she couldn’t hire him for the full-time role, but did offer him a job as production operator.

Nicolet Plastics trained him, and in the fall of his junior year, Harris joined the company’s manufacturing youth apprenticeship program. In his senior year, he worked noon to 4 p.m. each day.

Harris knew he didn’t want to go to a four-year college, but Pichotta helped him explore technical college options and research salary information. She and Wabeno High School teachers and counselors worked together to guide his career and school choices while balancing his schedule.

“They’ve just been very supportive of Tyler and us to think outside of the box and letting people take advantage of whatever is best for them versus everything being about the four-year college,” Pichotta says of Wabeno High School.

Today, Harris is part of a state apprenticeship program for maintenance technicians. He attended Northeast Wisconsin Technical College for blueprint reading and is a welding student at Nicolet College, all while working full-time as a process technician at Nicolet Plastics.

During his senior year last year, Harris manned the Nicolet Plastics booth at the Manufacturing First Conference & Expo and talked to students about his path. He also recently was named a 2019
NEWMA All Star.

Not just for boys

When Sachin Shivaram, former president of Samuel Pressure Vessel Group in Marinette, saw a story about a “This Girl Can” project, he knew he wanted to create a similar program to reach out to girls. With the help of NEWMA, the company worked with Marinette Middle School and NWTC to host “This Girl Can,” designed to introduce seventh- and eighth-grade girls to manufacturing and welding careers.

On the first day of the two-day program, which debuted last year, 16 girls toured the facility and talked with female manufacturing representatives about careers. On the second day, they went to NWTC to try their hand at welding, with each participant creating a girl stick figure.

The company, which received the Brighter Image manufacturing award, employs five female welders. Chantel Stuppnig, human resources generalist for Samuel Pressure Vessel Group, says that proved eye-opening for the girls.

“Once one of the (female welders) took off her welding hood and the girls stopped by her welding booth, they saw that she was a female, and their eyes lit up like Christmas,” she says. “It was amazing to see.”

Stuppnig says the event has generated excitement and interest in the community, and other groups and schools have approached her about expanding it. The company is looking to reach out to more schools as well as organizations such as Girl Scouts.

Plotting out a path

Johnson Controls received the Manufacturing Innovation award for its STEM mentorship work with Marinette High School students. The program includes career presentations, site visits and opportunities for a yearlong active program in which juniors work one full day a month with a Johnson Controls mentor on product development.

In the mentorship program, students work in teams with peers and a Johnson Controls employee. Teams go through the entire engineering process, from design conceptualization and brainstorming to CAD modeling and prototyping, culminating in a report-out to leadership teams. Students also work on building soft skills such as communication in the workplace, resumé building and teamwork.

When Kristin Ryczek, product development manager for Johnson Controls and a leader for the project, was interested in becoming an engineer, these kinds of experiences weren’t available. She says this program helps students determine whether they have an interest in engineering.

“I think being able to have those opportunities before you spend $50,000 on a college education that you end up figuring out is not something you want to do, it’s just as valuable as the kids that know that it is something they want to do.”

Real-world experience

For five years, Denmark High School technology education and engineering teacher Kory Fredrikson has worked with furniture company KI to give his students real-world exposure to manufacturing careers.

Fredrikson, who won one of two Career Pathmaker Technology Education Teacher awards, says the program gives students a chance to practice 21st Century learning skills such as collaboration and creative thinking. At the same time, KI gets introduced to new young talent.

Before the school year begins, Fredrikson works with KI to determine the challenge students will work on. KI comes into the classroom to introduce the project, and then the students get to work. Last year, four groups developed prototypes, receiving feedback from KI along the way. Usually, the final prototype chosen is an amalgamation of all the projects.

The program isn’t just for fun. Since its inception, KI has built two student-designed machines. They’re still in production, and one of the two was so successful, the company has made three more.

Fredrikson says education-manufacturer partnerships help introduce students to the exciting career opportunities the industry offers.

“They need high-skilled, highly intelligent people to operate and to build all their equipment,” he says. “By partnering with a manufacturer, the kids get to see that I’m not just standing there pushing the same button over and over again.”