Breaking the stigma of manufacturing

Article by Kelly Lynch of KPC Media

West Noble seniors go on countywide tour of facilities

LIGONIER — “When you guys graduate, come back and work here.”

An ending remark from BRC Rubber & Plastic’s human resources manager, Thom Maher, was a view shared by nearly every facility West Noble High School seniors visited during the school’s second annual countywide industry tour Wednesday.

All seniors were required to attend this year’s event, which split more than 120 students between four buses that traveled to 12 manufacturing facilities in Kendallville, Albion, Avilla, Rome City and Ligonier by the day’s end.

Candice Holbrook, West Noble School Corp. director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the district decided to change its approach to the tour this year to involve all students because of the opportunity to keep and attract talent to local manufacturers at every level of postsecondary education, not just those forgoing college.

It’s a mutually beneficial day, as local industries open their doors to the future workforce they’re trying to recruit and break the stigma surrounding manufacturing jobs.

“I don’t think our students are aware of the opportunities they have no matter what pathway they’re on, whether it’s entry level or entering right into the workforce, or whether it’s trade school or a four-year degree,” Holbrook said. “When we talk about attracting our youth here, they need to know what those opportunities are.”

Those include not just the typical positions at a manufacturer — the worker on the floor of the plant operating a machine, for example — but also accountants, human resources managers and marketing specialists.

The tour was meant to highlight those options and show students the stereotypes about manufacturing are wrong, as many plants are exceptionally clean and employ workers who take pride in their jobs, Noble County Economic Development Corp. marketing coordinator Sami Jacobs said.

“I think there’s a growing appreciation for it, too. I think manufacturing jobs can have a bad rap. They’re seen as being dirty and hard, which some of them are, but the first two we went into today were pretty spotless,” Jacobs said. “I think it’s changed a lot over the years, gotten a lot friendlier, a better workplace environment than it had been before.”

Students seemed to agree.

In a debriefing session held at the school after the tour, more than 70 percent of participating seniors answered “yes” to whether they could apply for a job in a local factory or start their own business in the vocation they’ve currently chosen for their lives.

The day’s event also helped break down several myths surrounding manufacturing, as students noted that they no longer feel factory jobs are simply a “last option” for those without a college degree, or the work is “mindless” or “dirty.”

Several students commented on the pride they saw workers take in their jobs and company, and the opportunities for training, tuition reimbursements and benefits in some of the facilities.

“I think it’s important that they understand what’s available here. Part of what we really focus on is keeping the talent that we have and letting them know that there are jobs here. There are tons of jobs here that they could just have,” Jacobs said. “I think it’s really good to get them here and physically see what it’s about.”

Holbrook and Jacobs also were heartened to see that representatives of the facilities were eager to be involved in the endeavor, even wanting to reach out and work with students individually moving forward.

Holbrook pointed to Creative Liquid Coating’s director of engineering, Rick Doering, as an example.

When the students visited the plant, he stressed the importance of building relationships with them and making himself available to meet with them one-on-one to talk about what opportunities the Kendallville facility can provide, Holbrook said.

“That’s someone in the community saying, ‘Hey, we need you, we want you, but we want you to be happy in what you’re doing, too, so you can contribute to your community,’ she said.

“Some of them don’t know what they want to do, so they can go and start making a living not really knowing exactly what they want to do, but knowing that they have that opportunity for growth, to find what they’re most interested in.”