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The Journey Continues: Building the Next Generation of Manufacturing Talent

Feb. 18, 2020
IndustryWeek columnist Larry Fast continues his quest to build manufacturing muscle in his hometown. Student-run Cardinal Manufacturing provides inspiration.

In March of 2019 I wrote about my initiative to help transform my hometown (Winchester, Ind.) high school’s “metals lab” into a world class advanced manufacturing center (AMC).  The model for it is based on my many years of experience leading manufacturing operations and my book, The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence, 2nd. edition. It’s incredible how much progress has been made in just 16 months since the journey began in October 2018!

In the spring of 2019, I became aware of Cardinal Manufacturing.  It was established by Craig Cegielski in 2008 as an in-school manufacturing class, in a remote, small town in northwest Wisconsin, not unlike lots of other “metals labs” across America.  But the dream for Cardinal Manufacturing was bigger. Cegielski started a high school technical education curriculum and began the journey to establish a well-equipped manufacturing center, including a variety of machining centers, support equipment and welding booths. Craig’s ultimate vision was to create a manufacturing business run by students and to find customers who needed metal products that could be made by students with existing equipment.  (Cardinal Manufacturing recently added wood working equipment and began producing wood products for sale.)  Today, all of their products, made by the students, are sold to businesses near and far.  Follow the link for a more expansive look at the evolution of www.cardinalmanufacturing.org.                

As a result of learning about the grand experiment in Wisconsin, the Winchester Community High School’s (WCHS) AMC instructor, Brian Clawson, the school corporation’s superintendent, Rolland Abraham, and I attended Cardinal Manufacturing’s workshop in October. Craig, his staff and students were extraordinarily open and helpful. It was especially gratifying to talk with the students and find how much they were engaged and knowledgeable about the business. Of course, they were receiving high school credits, but there was more to it than that. Students receive a paycheck at the end of the school year based on the net proceeds of product sales and their work throughout the school year.  The three of us from Winchester shamelessly stole several ideas and took them back to apply to our efforts. Craig makes himself available for calls at any time when like-minded people want to pick his brain for context or clarification. It’s a great partnership.

At the AMC in Winchester, enrollment in the manufacturing and welding areas has doubled from last school year, and more growth is forecasted as all county schools can now participate. As a result, the faculty team there is preparing to expand the number of classes for students in the 2020-2021 school year. Two more new machines were installed for operation in late January and the strategic plan for entering the world of selling products to local businesses has started to evolve. The school mascot? Falcons. One of these days, perhaps as early as fall of 2020, we look forward to establishing a make-to-order business (maybe “Falcon Industries”?).

There are lots of details that still must be worked out with the school board and local school officials, but the interest and energy level are palpable all around the staff table and in the community as well. I love the progress that’s been made in just two semesters of work since the new AMC was created.

Another idea, which we will shamelessly include in the WCHS strategic plan, was started in 2019 by our friends at Cardinal Manufacturing. The idea is to select non-AMC students to fill important business roles in “Falcon Industries”. The students will go through an interviewing process to land a “job” that requires important business skills. For example, someone studying accounting might apply for the job as the “Falcon Industries” controller. A student interested in sales and marketing could be asked to develop a sales and marketing plan to define the product marketing strategy, sales price and promotions. One who is on an academic track for engineering could be helpful looking after maintenance or helping to develop a new product. How about a supply chain manager for a student to manage scheduling, receiving and shipping? What great real-world experiences for high school students!

Finally, Superintendent Rolland is busy meeting with top leaders of manufacturing businesses in the area, and they are responding very positively. He’s on a path to establish a professional relationship with every manufacturing and machining center in the county. His objective is to educate them on what the AMC is doing and how it can help each business in the future. There will also be regular communications going forward to keep everyone current.

The early results are very encouraging from company leaders. Some are donating materials. One company has donated a robot to add to the AMC capabilities. The same company has placed its first order for the students to make stands on rollers to support their growing business and material handling needs.  Others have begun to place small orders for the students to begin working on. Others, we hope, will provide some financial support. We believe many will become customers around the county and beyond.

The agenda to develop a long-range strategic plan is being discussed. Items being addressed include such things as forecasting the future growth of students over five years, additional equipment that may be required, the need to expand the physical structure’s footprint and so on.

Perhaps most importantly, the aging of the workforce coupled with continued business growth will require a steady influx of new hiring activity for the foreseeable future. (The average age of a U.S. machinist is 45.6, and the national average for annual pay is $56,300 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Bottom line: Learning a trade on state-of-the-art machines will make students very marketable. It will also provide significant opportunities to make a good living wage. We hope this will cause many of the young people in the area to stay and work in their home town.

In sum, students win, local businesses win, and the city wins and begins to attract more good paying manufacturing jobs while incumbent companies expand. We’re bullish on the future of Winchester and thankful to Craig and his team at Cardinal Manufacturing for their openness and interest in helping to guide our journey. We’re grateful for the strong leadership in the school corporation and at WCHS. All these things are important marketing tools for the Randolph County Economic Development office and the local Chamber of Commerce to attract new businesses. Stay tuned.

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