- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

DICKINSON, N.D. (AP) - Southwest North Dakota manufacturers are teaming up to get students considering careers in manufacturing.

The Southwest Area Manufacturing group, along with the Greater North Dakota Chamber, launched the Manufacturing Institute’s Dream it. Do it. program a year ago in the state and spent the past year building it up.

“We haven’t done a good job of telling our story, and we’re going to change that,” said Guy Moos, CEO of Steffes Corp.

TMI Systems Corp., which manufactures laminate cabinet storage systems; Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing Inc., which makes circuit board assemblies, cables, harnesses and ground support equipment catering to aviation; Fisher Industries, which manufactures equipment for the sand, gravel and stone industry; Steffes Corp., which manufactures oil field products and off-peak heaters; Baker Boy, which makes wholesale baked goods; SolarBee, which makes solar-powered water treatment equipment; Worthington Industries, which purchased and operates Steffes’ former oil field tank manufacturing business; and FunShine Express Inc., which makes craft learning kits, all want to tell the story of the careers available in manufacturing in hopes of persuading high school and college students to join their employee ranks upon graduation.

Moos predicts the next five to 10 years will be the most challenging for manufacturing, or any industry, as baby boomers retire, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/223bodA ) reported.

“They need to be replaced,” he said.

The group started with a Manufacturing Day Expo, the first collaborative event by manufacturers, inviting 250 students and educators to view presentations on their various companies.

“Teachers brought busloads of kids,” said Uma Hoffmann, who works in human resources for Steffes and has helped organize the Dream it. Do it. program.

In a presentation to 14-year-olds at Dickinson High School, Hoffmann said she could see the students becoming engaged and excited and their perception of manufacturing changed.

For 2016, the group’s goals include three outreach events and more social media outreach. They’ve already been to New England Public School last month, talking to 80 high school-age students, and have plans to go to Beach and Dickinson high schools this month. Richardton, Belfield and South Heart also are on the list.

The group has nine ambassadors - “rising stars” from the various companies, training to conduct presentations. The group includes electricians, engineers, sales people, safety coordinators, human resources personnel and researchers and developers. Hoffmann said the goal is to eventually have 15 ambassadors.

“We’re making great gains developing ambassadors,” Moos said.

In their presentations, ambassadors give students an idea of what’s going on in manufacturing in the region, touching on tools of the trade, including robotics and 3-D printing.

“(Manufacturing) is not any less than a really cool IT job,” Hoffmann said.

The ambassadors talk about the reach of the companies: KMM sells along the West Coast, in Arizona, Missouri, Rhode Island and in the Southeast; Baker Boy covers the upper Midwest; and TMI, Steffes, Fisher and SolarBee are global.

“We’re doing a lot from where we are,” Hoffmann said.

The presentations cover what each company has for career opportunities, including a baker, assembly worker, engineer or accountant at Baker Boy.

“We go through the gambit,” Moos said, adding his company employs 210 people in the state. “We’ve got all kinds of occupations.”

He said students also are pleased to see the level of wages provided, which may average $24 to $27 per hour. Hoffman said the annual salary average of all the Southwest Area Manufacturers is $77,000 annually.

Often, the students the companies’ representatives talk to may already know someone who works for one of their companies. The ambassadors are younger, often only a few years older than the students their talking to and may have grown up down the street.

“Young people like to listen to other young people,” Moos said, and the ambassadors serve as examples of what the students could be at a time when they’re making up their minds about a career path.

“There’s so many good stories students can relate to,” Hoffmann said, like the two friends getting together to start SolarBee.

Moos said manufacturing is no longer associated with a dingy garage: It’s inviting, there’s a family culture.

“We make things; we’re very proud of that,” he said.

Hoffmann said workers can see a set of stairs in the oilfield and say: “I made that; I was a part of that.”

Hoffmann said there are not a lot of “drop-in” manufacturing companies in the state, most were started and grown by locals. For that reason and others, she said it becomes important for manufacturers to develop their workforce from people already living in the state.

Hoffmann said she believes the companies involved will see the success of Dream it. Do it. when students coming out of school, whether it be high school, trade school or a four-year degree, are aligned with what the industry needs. She said programs, such as high school welding, are already good but the skill gap could be even less.

“(Students) can be gainfully employed at 18 if they want,” said Hoffmann, adding the Dream it. Do it. program is showing results all over the country. North Dakota is one of 35 states participating.

“It’s a phenomenal development opportunity,” she said. “We’re still setting it up; it’ll be really fun when it’s up and running.”

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com


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