When tech ed instructor Kyle Novak of Luxemburg-Casco High School returned to teaching after more than five years working in machining and fabrication, he recognized a gap between what kids were learning about manufacturing and what the industry actually needed.
“I got a different perspective on where industry was, and then what our offerings were on the K-12 side,” Novak says. “Where we were at as far as equipment and methodology was kind of in the stone age, of sorts.”
Novak got to work connecting with regional manufacturers and building company relationships, including with D&S Machine Service in Luxemburg. The company has provided not only educational and employment opportunities to students but also more than $100,000 worth of new CNC machining equipment to the school, giving students a more relevant learning experience.
“Even outside of the financial piece, they’ve basically provided us unmitigated access to their intellectual knowledge that they have within the industry,” Novak says.
Company employees come in every other week to meet with students and offer a discussion topic. “The kids see the relevancy a lot more in what we’re teaching daily, because you have industry coming in and corroborating what we’re saying,” he says.
Luxemburg-Casco’s tech ed efforts were recognized in October at the NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s eighth annual Excellence in Manufacturing & K-12 Partnerships Awards, winning the Manufacturer Partnership award in the Educator category.
At an awards dinner, more than a dozen schools, manufacturers and a chamber of commerce were honored for their collaborative work in building stronger technology education opportunities for students. The event also raised $13,700 toward student scholarships in silent and live auctions.
“These students are sons and daughters of our company employees, and so that’s important to companies, and I just am amazed when I see all the companies that are willing to invest if not financially but with people, so that’s really huge,” says Ann Franz, director of NEWMA. “We also know that K-12 is going to be our largest pipeline of talent, so it’s really critical that we invest our time and energy in them.”
Mishicot School District, which also works with D&S Machine Service, won the Brighter Image award in the Educator category for its student-driven Academic and Career Planning program. The program includes manufacturing pathways for all students, who in grades 6-8 will tour a minimum of two manufacturing companies to gain a clear idea about modern manufacturing facilities. The district also offers weekly STEM time for kids in grades K-5 using the engineering process on age-appropriate projects.
Sara Greenwood, Career and Technical Education coordinator for Mishicot School District, says the program has allowed students to explore careers and develop career planning skills, with many of them having shown a strong interest in STEM-related opportunities.
“We know from our business partners that these are areas that are growing and areas where there’s a lot of viable career opportunities for our students, so we partner with over 300 businesses in our area,” Greenwood says.
Company partnerships extend from Manitowoc County into Sheboygan, Brown and Kewaunee counties and sometimes the Fox Cities to offer access to a variety of careers and job shadowing opportunities, Greenwood says.
The Mishicot community also supported a referendum for the school district. It provided for construction of a new fab lab and the creation of the business Mishicot Enterprise, which primarily provides laser-engraved products such as tumblers and plaques.
“We’ve had tremendous support from our area businesses as well as D&S Machine in Luxemburg, who donated some equipment for us,” she says.
The two CNC machines, housed in the school’s metal shop, came equipped with tools and simulators, so students can write programs and watch them play out on a screen first before trying them on the expensive equipment, says Russ Nowak, owner and president of D&S Machine Service. The company also works with and has provided equipment to the tech programs at Algoma and Kewaunee high schools.
“You don’t have to pick up many periodicals to understand that the human resources in manufacturing are retiring quickly, and we are all struggling to backfill,” says Nowak, who wanted to get involved after seeing that area high schools lacked updated equipment. “How do you get these kids interested in manufacturing when these shop classes have machines from the ’60s and ’70s?”
The company decided to invest in the future workforce and provide teacher and classroom support. It also has a youth apprenticeship program at its company and a paid technical college program for those who want a career with the company.
The investment becomes even more critical as D&S Machine plans an expansion to its fab facility that includes robotic welding and more CNC equipment in the machine shop, which will generate up to 40 new jobs, Nowak says.
“If we’re going to continue to grow our company and be a viable manufacturing entity, we have to keep the pipelines full,” Nowak says. “These investments that we’ve made into these schools are helping everybody around us in manufacturing, not just us. There’s a lot of manufacturing in the Brown, Kewaunee, Door vicinity.”
NEWMA Excellence in Manufacturing/K-12 Partnerships Awards winners
Brighter Image – BPM Inc.
Educational Partnership – Therma-Tron-X Inc.
Leadership – Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
Manufacturing Innovation – Gulfstream Aerospace Corp.
Visionary – Jared Bailin, Eagle Performance Plastics
Youth Apprenticeship – Ariens Co.
Career Pathmaker Administrator – Mike Trimberger, Random Lake School District
Career Pathmaker Educator – Rita O’Brien, Appleton Area School District
Career Pathmaker Technology Education Teacher – Chris Arps, Winneconne Community School District
Career Pathmaker Technology Education Teacher – David Stroud, Ashwaubenon High School
Education Innovation – Hortonville High School
Higher Education – David Fisher, Fox Valley Technical College
Manufacturer Partnership – Luxemburg-Casco High School
Brighter Image – Mishicot School District
COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP AWARD
Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce