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Manufacturers appeal to high schools

Southwest North Dakota manufacturers are hoping to expand their labor pool by appealing to high school students. Wednesday is Manufacturing Day in Dickinson. It's given that designation by Dickinson and Stark County officials at the request of lo...

Mark Baker, an engineer at Fisher Industries, and Austin Zeller, an engineer at Steffes will spend Wednesday talking to local high school students about the manufacturing sector. By Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press.
Mark Baker, an engineer at Fisher Industries, and Austin Zeller, an engineer at Steffes will spend Wednesday talking to local high school students about the manufacturing sector. By Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press.

Southwest North Dakota manufacturers are hoping to expand their labor pool by appealing to high school students.

Wednesday is Manufacturing Day in Dickinson. It's given that designation by Dickinson and Stark County officials at the request of local manufacturing representatives. They celebrate their crafts by inviting area high schoolers to the Biesiot Activities Center to learn about career opportunities in the manufacturing sector.

"I'm excited about it, and I'm really looking forward to the students coming and just continuing to show what a great opportunity there is in the manufacturing world in so many different types of job opportunities," said Curt Kittelson, general manager at General Steel and Supply Co., the manufacturing division of Fisher Industries. "Kind of the other thing is that it is one of the highest-paying business sectors that there is."

Sue Roller, the director of human resources at Baker Boy, said many people still have a 1950s idea of manufacturing - people working on assembly lines in dark, nasty conditions.

But the sector is bright, challenging and exciting today, she said.

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"I think through the years manufacturing kind of has gotten a bad rap, so to speak, and so we want to make sure that these kids know how manufacturing really is in today's world-you know all the high-tech equipment," she said. "And it's not just the manufacturing part. There's all the support positions like the truck driving, the accounting, the human resources, purchasing-all of that. So it's to get that exposure to the kids so they can start thinking about, 'Hey, maybe manufacturing is for me.'"

More than 250 high school students will be bused in between the morning and afternoon session. There will be different hands-on stations set up to teach students about the different types of functions that support the industry - including finance, administration and information technology (IT) - as well as an imagination station to showcase some of the engineering, sales and marketing aspects of the field. There's also a booth for demos that display some of the things made locally by these companies, said Uma Hoffmann, human resource manager at Steffes.

Individual companies will also have booths to speak to students about career opportunities. Schools including Dickinson State University, North Dakota State University and a trucking school will be there to offer students information on educational options for some of these positions and industries.

"The goal of the whole thing is to raise awareness about manufacturing in our area, and then also for us in southwest (North Dakota) we are taking a different spin this year, which is not only to raise awareness about the industry but taking a step deeper into raising awareness about the types of jobs that are available to them right in their backyard," Hoffmann said.

Still, many students are not aware of careers in manufacturing that extend beyond the technical realm, said Ervin Vanveldhuizen, a former career and technical education teacher who worked in Dickinson Public Schools for 37 years.

Vanveldhuizen has visited 15 different schools to spread awareness about manufacturing days and the opportunities in the sector to both students and their school counselors. He has connected some of these schools with ambassadors from local companies to share their experiences with the students and answer any of their questions relating to their respective fields.

"For students to have the realization that there are many different opportunities for them upon graduation from high schools is very important," Vanveldhuizen said. "It gives them a lot of choices in manufacturing because manufacturing is so varied. It's not just people working on an assembly line putting widgets together all day-although that is a part of it, but there are many more aspects to manufacturing."

The manufacturing sector is well-established in the Dickinson area, Kittelson said. For younger people looking more for a career rather than a job, manufacturing is a stable industry to go into with benefit packages that are "second to none," he said.

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"It's a solid sector of business in this world. ... especially with the groups that we've have in southwest North Dakota," he said. "We've got good solid companies here."

Related Topics: MANUFACTURING
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