Brillion-based snowblower and lawn mower manufacturer Ariens Co. is working with local students to show potential careers in manufacturing and that those jobs extend beyond the assembly line.
Around the state, manufacturers are looking at ways to get students, educators and parents interested in job opportunities in one of the state's leading economic sectors.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is one of the organizations working on ways to connect the public with manufacturing with the goal of finding — and creating — skilled workers to fill open positions that some company's say they can't fill.
"In the next five years, we'll have some very critical retirements," said Vicki Layde, of Ariens. "We need to get very creative and have decided to work with our local high schools more than we have in the past. One of our number one objectives is to increase awareness and build our own talent within the company — grow our own machinists, our own tool and die makers and our own automation people."
Layde was one of about two-dozen employers and educators who attended a discussion Wednesday at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. The discussion centered on getting people interested in manufacturing.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is trying to raise awareness of what modern manufacturing looks like by providing facility tours and highlighting the importance of the sector to the state and the types of jobs — and salaries — that are available.
WMC Foundation President Jim Morgan said some of the impact of the efforts will be immediate, while others will take time to come to fruition.
"It's immediate in that you have people who are starting to understand this and recognizing we have to do something about it, but it's not like we're going to have machinists tomorrow," he said after the meeting. "Part of it is just getting this conversation going so schools understand the expectations of employers and that employers are doing their part to reach out to the schools, 'Here's what we're looking for and here's what we need,' and matching them up."
The disparity between available jobs and skills in the workforce has been a topic of discussion at a number of events and throughout the education and manufacturing sector in recent years. Some employers say they have jobs but can't find qualified candidates to fill them.
WMC has met with more than 300 manufacturers as well as the presidents of Wisconsin technical colleges to delve into causes of the shortages and develop ways to help remedy the situation.
One of the things NWTC President H. Jeffrey Rafn said could help is if employers explain to students how their education is used directly in the manufacturing process.
"Our kids need to know, 'How is it that I use that algebra, math equation or fractions in production,'" he said. "They don't make the connection between what they are learning in school and what your process is. We need to help you help them."
That's something Layde said Ariens is putting more emphasis on when working with students.
"We're not just explaining what we do there; we're explaining what they are learning and how that will tie in and where they can take those careers," she said. "You may start on a machine but really discover you love engineering. We have tuition reimbursement, and you may become an engineer.
"The kids are where we're going to find our people," Layde said.
Morgan said one of the key aspects of helping students pursue a career path into manufacturing is laying out the steps for them, telling them what classes will make them career-ready.
"If you do this and this and this, you'll have a job making this," he said. "For a 16-year-old kid, that's a lot of it. You've got to connect the dots for them so they can at least see the path and follow it."