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Manufacturing Day educates Michigan students, pools talent

In this Oct. 20, 2019 photo, Port Huron High School students Brendon Coronado and Taylor Colston take an aptitude test while taking a tour of SMR's plant during Manufacturing Day in Marysville, Mich. Manufacturing Day is for, opening peoples' eyes to what the field of manufacturing offers. Although the day is held annually on the first Friday of October, schools and businesses throughout St. Clair County and Michigan worked together so high school students could visit manufacturers throughout the month. (Bryce Airgood/The Times Herald via AP)

By BRYCE AIRGOOD
The Port Huron
Times Herald
AP Member Exchange
PORT HURON — There was a time in her life when Jaclyn Radford, 21, thought computer numerical control would be in her future.
That is, until she attended a Manufacturing Day event as a sophomore at Capac High School and discovered she thought being a CNC operator looked like the most boring job.
“I went yeah, this is not for me,” she said.
However, six years later, Radford is actually in the manufacturing field. She is an electrical technician for Blue Water Controls, a custom automation equipment provider in Clyde Township. And she loves it.
“It’s something different every day,” she said.
There’s no one set job with the position. She builds electrical panels and assembly machines, does field wiring and programs censors. There’s all this planning and designing and she gets to see it all work at the end.
“It’s a really rewarding job,” she said.
But Radford does not think anyone associates her job with manufacturing. She definitely didn’t when she was in high school.
That’s what Manufacturing Day is for, opening peoples’ eyes to what the field of manufacturing offers.
Although the day is held annually on the first Friday of October, schools and businesses throughout St. Clair County and Michigan worked together so high school students could visit manufacturers throughout the month, the Port Huron Times Herald reported.
Some companies have participated for years, like the Marysville SMR Automotive Systems USA, Inc. plant.
Terri McKinnie, employee engagement coordinator, said the company wants the next generation of kids to be exposed to jobs in manufacturing facilities.
The company is always looking for future employees who bring fresh ideas to the table. But this opportunity also opens the students’ eyes to options out there like an alternative to college if they don’t want to take that path, she said.
Some companies participated in Manufacturing Day for the first time this year, like Blue Water Controls, which was excited to host 83 high school sophomores from Memphis on Oct. 18, manager Debby Wolfe said in an email.
There were six stations set up where students learned about the mechanical and control designs, machining, welding, assembly and programming of robots. Most stations were hands-on, giving students the opportunity to fully integrate themselves in the process, she said.
Are students and manufacturers seeing the benefits?
“It’s certainly something very important to ZF and the industry,” said Tony Sapienza, North America communications director for auto supplier ZF, whose Marysville plant also gave students tours.
Sophomore year is a point in a lot of students’ lives where they have to make choices about where they want their future to take them, said Mike Palmer, Port Huron High School principal.
These choices include whether the students want to be a part of the tech program, whether they want to enroll in the Blue Water Middle College Academy or if they want to dive into STEM classes and engineering.
The school wants students to get experience through things like Manufacturing Day tours so they can see what the jobs are like in real life and get prepared for what it takes to get there, Palmer said.
Radford said if there was a book with all the jobs in the world on it, it would be a very overwhelming and very big book.
Through Manufacturing Day students might see something they could do for the rest of their lives. Or, they could discover it is something they’re really not interested in.
Even cutting potential jobs out of the playing field can help narrow down students’ choices and help them find what they’re really passionate about, Radford said.
She does think Manufacturing Day events work and open a world to students that they might not have known about.
Nate Tank, the organizational development specialist at the Marysville ZF plant, said Manufacturing Day is a “neat opportunity, especially in St. Clair County.”
“The demystifying of manufacturing is really what we’re doing here,” he said.
Naturally, giving students tours of manufacturing plants is a way to try and change negative perceptions on the field. A lot of people think factories are inherently dirty or dangerous, but you can’t run an operation that way, he said.
It’s also “not overly loud” and quiet when compared with historical noise levels.
With the tours, students can decide for themselves if it’s something they’d like to do in the future.