Olivia Combs was surprised by how much she didn’t know about manufacturing.

Combs, 15, was among more than 1,200 Rock County students who toured Blackhawk Technical College’s Advanced Manufacturing Center on Thursday and Friday for Manufacturing Day, a national event designed to “inspire the next generation of manufacturers,” according to its website.

Along with tours of the center, students visited at least one or two local firms, including North American Pipe, Prent, Goex, Baker Manufacturing, Edgerton Gear and Tigre USA. More than 35 firms were involved in the event, and students from 20 schools attended.

The goal?

To reach students such as Combs who haven’t been exposed to the new generation of jobs in manufacturing fields.

Lisa Brorick, an academic learning coach at Parker High School, said students tend to gravitate toward what their parents do for a living.

“But the economy in Rock County has really changed,” she said Friday. “This is a way for us to help families and to show students all the different careers that are out there.”

Parker teachers Nicole Kan and Tami Trulock escorted another group of Parker students Friday, and they believe it’s crucial to get all freshmen—not just those interested in technical education—into manufacturing settings.

“A lot of students thought that these jobs were still all on the (assembly) line,” Trulock said.

Today’s manufacturers are looking for “knowledge workers,” said Thomas Pleuger, a machine shop instructor at Blackhawk Tech. Knowledge workers are people who are comfortable with applied and technical math, coding, computer science, and the rudiments of engineering, and those who are willing to continue to learn throughout their careers.

The day made an impression on students, Brorick said.

After a tour of Baker Manufacturing in the morning, students were unusually quiet on the bus, she said. Representatives from Baker, a foundry manufacturing company in Evansville, had talked to them about the company’s range of jobs.

“They talked to students about their HR department, about their marketing department, about how they employ everything from a four-year specialist like a metallurgist, to a CNC (computer numerical control) operator from Blackhawk Tech, to students who are getting started after high school,” Brorick said. “It really gave them a lot to think about.”

As for Combs, she said she would probably pursue a career in a medical field—she wants to be a doctor—but what she learned Friday surprised her.

The settings, the variety of jobs and what she would need to know had opened her eyes to new possibilities, she said.


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