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Companies Host Student Talent Tours for Manufacturing Day

A new effort to introduce young people to in-demand careers in Northeast Michigan is focusing on the manufacturing industry. October 6th celebrated National Manufacturing Day; throughout the month, area manufacturers held student activities to connect area youth with the industry.

Over the past few weeks, students from 12 local high schools toured 15 local manufacturing companies. These Talent Tours gave students the opportunity to visit local manufacturers operations to see firsthand what it’s like to work in a modern-day manufacturing environment. Students also learned about local training programs in the trades and advanced manufacturing.

In the northeast Michigan region, there is high demand for manufacturing workers. Nearly 25% of the region’s “Hot Jobs” are in the manufacturing industry, including Electrician, Operating Engineer, and Machinist (Hot Jobs in Northeast Lower Michigan), yet employers are struggling to find qualified candidates.

Due to accelerating retirement rates of current workers and industry growth, by 2025 there is expected to be approximately 2 million unfilled manufacturing jobs across the U.S. Considering how prevalent our aging workforce is in northern Michigan, it is imperative for our regions’ economy that we get a new generation interested in manufacturing careers. Through Talent Tours, we introduce manufacturing opportunities to students early on, hoping to get them interested in working in the industry.

“It was a pleasure to celebrate Manufacturing Day, together with Moran Iron Works, by opening our doors to Alpena students from the ACES Academy in an effort to inspire the next generation of manufacturers,” said Mark Domdroski, executive Director of the Industrial Arts Institute.

Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium helped to coordinate the tours, by connecting with companies in the region. The workforce agency sees the need for a new perspective on manufacturing. “People envision the dirty factories of old, with backbreaking, repetitive work,” says Marisue Moreau, Director of Michigan Works! Northeast Consortium. “But that’s not how manufacturing is today. It’s important that we show educators, students, and their parents what today’s manufacturing careers can offer. The future of our region’s employers depends on it.”

Modern manufacturing companies use high-tech equipment, which require advanced skills to operate. New manufacturing processes must be conducted in clean facilities, and all workers are involved in creating the product, from start to finish. The tours expose students to these realities right here in northeast Michigan.

Schools are also recognizing how important it is for students to gain this kind of exposure. “This opportunity helps our students understand that there are good jobs in our area that will have them working in careers that utilize modern equipment in a clean manufacturing environment," says Dana McGrew, superintendent of Iosco-RESA.

The Regional Prosperity Initiative Collaborative of Northeast Michigan provided mini-grants to various schools, in order to support their costs for transporting students attending the tours. The funds allowed some schools to participate when they otherwise would have missed out.

"The RPI Collaborative is thrilled to support these Talent Tours, making it possible for schools to participate," says Diane Rekowski of the RPI Collaborative. "We should all do our part to make sure that young people get to see the many career options available to them."

On Friday, October 6, in recognition of Manufacturing Day, 22 dual enrolled students from Gaylord Schools toured Springs Window Fashions, Airway Automation, and IMM, Incorporated. The students were all dual-enrolled at Kirtland Community College, taking courses on welding and fabricating, or electrical and PLC programming at Kirtland’s MTEC Center in Gaylord.


Springs Plant Manager, Dan Heinz, and HR Manager, John Metts, led the students in two groups on the tour of the plant, showing them the manufacturing machines and equipment that produce wood blinds, and soft roll blinds. Metts said, “I was quite impressed with the knowledge the students had about manufacturing and the skills needed by the questions they asked.” Some even did their homework about the company by visiting the company website before the tour. The students were able to learn about the company’s highly successful retention strategy and how the company prides itself on being a “great place to work”.

At Airway Automation, Plant Manager Todd Bidwell led the students on the tour, showing them the machines that make the high-quality parts and assembly equipment. Bidwell also pointed out that Airway takes pride in having an exceptionally clean and well-organized plant. The students came prepared with questions about what skills and qualifications were needed to get a job with the company. Bidwell encouraged interested students to apply for a co-op position, meaning they would work part-time at Airway while going to school and the company would help with tuition costs. Airway and Kirtland are currently in the process of developing a co-op program and application process for students.


At IMM, Plant Manager Mark Zumbaugh led students on the tour, showing them the water jet cutter used to cut large pieces of steel. Students also had the chance to see large pieces of steel being welded together to make 2,500-pound steel pallets for Arauco, the new particle board plant being built in Grayling. The also watched workers assemble and weld large steel stairs and walkways for local manufacturer, Weyerhaeuser. Students asked great questions regarding what equipment was being used and what welding certifications would be best to achieve for this kind of work.

After the tour, students enjoyed lunch back at Kirtland’s Health and Science Center in Grayling.


On Thursday, October 5, 45 students from Fairview Schools visited Metalfab Manufacturing and AMI Industries in honor of Manufacturing Week.

At Metalfab, Kyle Yoder led the student tour. He demonstrated how their plant bends the metal tubing that is used for sunroofs in most every vehicle made in the U.S. Kyle also explained that Metalfab offers 100% paid tuition to employees to further their education and career opportunities, as well as medical benefits. The students asked very good questions, including what skills were needed to get an entry level job at the plant, and what positions were available to someone just getting out of high school with a diploma. Some students even got hands-on experience on a machine to bend a piece of tubing.


At AMI Industries, a premier source for automotive powertrain and chassis products, Manufacturing Supervisor Todd Morris led the tour, showing students how their plant bends metal tubing to be used in cars and trucks. He described the company benefits, discussed entry level opportunities, and explained how he moved up to a leadership and management role. One student commented on “how cool it was to see a long steel tube bent in so many ways by a machine.” Another student loved the big forklifts driving through the plant and out in the yard.

The students had a wrap up session back at the school with pizza and pop courtesy of Michigan Works! They worked in small groups of four and recapped what they learned about the company as part of the tour.



On Friday, October 6, students from Vanderbilt Schools attended a Talent Tour at MEC Industries. The teachers and students all stated they enjoyed the tour and found it very interesting. MEC staff were happy to answer the many questions that the eager students had.



On Friday, October 6, students from Alpena’s ACES Academy attended a Talent Tour at Moran Iron Works and the Industrial Arts Institute in Onaway. IAI Executive Director, Mark Domdroski says, “It was a pleasure to celebrate Manufacturing Day, together with Moran Iron Works, by opening our doors to Alpena students from the ACES Academy in an effort to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.”


On Friday, October 6, Tube Fab hosted 24 students from Inland Lakes and Cheboygan Schools to attend Talent Tours at the plant. After safety training, 10 different employees representing a variety of different departments shared their personal career journeys and explained what a typical day at work is like for them. Each employee also shared career path recommendations and life lessons with the students. The day wrapped up with an extensive plant tour of all departments. Although the plant is shut down on Fridays (TubeFab recently went to a 4-day plant schedule), it made it easier to engage the students without distractions.


On Wednesday, October 4, 50 students from Posen High School, Rogers City High School, and Alpena Community College were treated to an all-day event at Carmeuse. The morning started with safety training and an exciting new video on the history, accomplishments, and future of the company. Next, representatives from each department explained what their team does day to day and how it relates to other departments and overall company success. Individual presentations included personal stories about the career path each took to get where they are today. After a great lunch provided by Carmeuse, students were broken up into groups and given an extensive tour with Q&A tailored to their particular interests.

On October 19, 22 students from Presque Isle Academy toured three Grayling businesses: Airway Automation, Springs Window Fashions, and AJD Forest Products.


At Airway Automation, Plant Manager Todd Bidwell showed teens how the parts feeders operate and demonstrated the metal cutting machines. He was impressed with the student questions and their feedback after the tour.

At Springs Window Fashions, John Metts, HR Manger, and Dan Heinz, Plant Manager, led two groups of students through the plant where they learned how lumber is cut and manufactured into material for wood blinds and other products. The students came prepared with questions about the company, and John gave excellent advice on how to nail an interview and get a job with the company.

At AJD Forest Products, Plant Manager Tony Nash led the tour through the mill. It was an incredible experience for the students to view lumber being moved in on conveyors and cut from a catwalk above. They finished the tour outside the mill in the shipping area where they watched large amounts of lumber being bundled and prepared to be shipped out. Part of the tour included learning and watching how very large saw blades are cleaned and sharpened. Student reported that this was the most interesting tour.

Created on Tuesday, November 7, 2017