The technical education program at Eleva-Strum High School in Strum, Wis., is attracting state and nationwide attention for its innovative approach to filling the skills gap. Students gain real-life manufacturing and business experience through Cardinal Manufacturing, a student-run manufacturing company where students make parts for paying customers.
Founded in 2007 and named for the school's mascot, Cardinal Manufacturing this year includes 17 juniors and seniors, each of whom completed an application and interview process to get into the year-long class.
Students handle all aspects of the manufacturing process, from quoting to invoicing, as well as marketing, office management and customer service, overseen by tech-ed instructor Craig Cegielski. They work with a variety of equipment and materials, producing low-volume, custom work as disparate as a sign for a local park and a storm water redirection system for a retail chain.
“We do just custom everything,” Cegielski said. “… We don't have a product line and every day we do something different.”
A portion of the business' profits is used to sustain and grow the program, and students take home a percentage based on the number of hours worked, averaging around $1,200 each for the year, Cegielski said. Cardinal Manufacturing operates at no extra cost to the school.
In addition to technical skills, Cardinal Manufacturing emphasizes “soft skills,” everything from how to give a good handshake to money management.
“Probably the bigger thing here is to develop the soft skills, develop the communication, the working together, the staying busy, on task, not using your cell phone, all those types of skills,” Cegielski said. “It's great we're teaching technical skills, but that's almost the bigger picture, because they're all going to go out and be employees, whether they all enter manufacturing careers or not.”
Cardinal Manufacturing subscribes to Ten Commandments for Career Success, a code of conduct borrowed from fervent supporter Nexen Group Inc., including such advice as “be positive,” “pay it forward” and “keep learning.”
Nexen is a provider of precision motion control components with a manufacturing location in Webster, Wis., about 125 miles from Eleva-Strum. The company recently pledged $37,500 in matching funds to the program.
“Craig has achieved amazing results with the manufacturing company he set up within his classroom,” reads the pledge letter. “He not only develops precision machining, welding and other metalworking skills in his students, he also models and has high standards for their soft skills and professionalism. … This matters to employers in Wisconsin and across the country; because those of us in advanced manufacturing are having a difficult time finding skilled talent.”
Dan Conroy, Nexen's vice president of human resources, said the program helps kids see possibilities for themselves in manufacturing, beyond the industry's reputation as “dumb, dirty and dull.” Conroy personally donated a portion of Nexen's pledged amount.