Fremont, Ohio — Industrial companies in Fremont, in northwestern Ohio, are struggling to get young people interested in manufacturing, but Century Die Co. is working to make it happen.
Fremont Die, among other area companies, is again working on a program for Oct. 6, Manufacturing Day, that aims to bring all ninth-grade students from local high schools to Terra State Community College in Fremont.
"The employers get to introduce their company and the opportunities that are out there in manufacturing," said Tim Myers, general manager at Century Die. "We are showing the students what's available and what they can seek when they graduate."
Century Die makes blow molds in Fremont. Myers is the co-chairman of the THINK Manufacturing committee with the Sandusky County Economic Development Corp.
This Manufacturing Day event will be the third time the group has hosted high school freshmen at Terra State Community College. Local companies break into groups and the students circulate through in groups of 10 or 15.
At the Sandusky County Manufacturers' Career Showcase, the students hear about a variety of skills needed to work in manufacturing. Century Die employees outline machining, blueprint reading and other "hard" skills, by building some manifold blocks, hooking air up to it, and using an auger. The students try CAD on a computer screen. Myers said hands-on activities keep them involved.
But Myers said the students also hear about "soft skills" like teamwork and problem solving. Other skills the ninth-graders learn include robotics, continuous improvement, quality and lean manufacturing.
About 900 students usually attend, from five or six local schools in the Fremont area, he said. Schools bus the young people to Terra for the Career Showcase
"Some of the schools use this event as part of their career readiness programs that are in their curriculums," Myers said. "We try to talk to every ninth-grade student." Students get an idea of what they need to learn in high school to prepare for the jobs.
Other Sandusky County manufacturers that are involved in the Career Showcase include Revere Plastics Systems LLC, a custom injection molder in Clyde, Ohio, Whirlpool Corp.'s Clyde plant that makes washing machines, and corrugated packaging maker Green Bay Packaging.
Local companies also hit young people where they hang out: the movie theater. They sponsor a 30-second video before the film starts that highlights careers in manufacturing.
And for the last five years, Century Die has brought students in the seventh through 12th grade to its shop to become mold maker professional for a day. Myers said small groups — usually about one, two or three young people at a time — spend their day there.
Students get exposed to every job at Century Die: project management, engineering, purchasing, mold making, shipping and receiving, accounting and information technology. "So they get to see it's not just a machine shop. There's a lot of support jobs," he said. Century Die proves that: Of the 76 total employees, 45 are machinists.
The types of jobs are diverse.
Myers said the blow mold maker hosted a total of 123 students last year. Century Die got a grant from the American Mold Builders Association for the mold maker professional for a day program.
"We utilize our retirees," Myers said. "Our retirees will spend a day and take the students around. They get to see their old friends and see what's going on. They get a big kick out of it."
When the effort first started, Myers said, some employees pushed back, saying they didn't have time.
"But as it's gone along, they really enjoy doing it," he said.
The work is paying off. Myers said the average age of Century Die employees has declined from 55 to 44.
The Sandusky County Chamber of Commerce named Century Die its Large Member of the Year for 2016, recognizing its efforts with young people. Myers, a chamber board member, said the organization is launching another program in November, a web portal where businesses post opportunities in job shadowing, internships and special projects.
Students, working with school guidance counselors, can browse the site and sign up.
High school guidance counselors are important players, so in 2013 and 2014, local manufacturers sponsored a bus tour to bring counselors and school superintendents to their operations.
"The counselors had no idea what was behind these walls. The opportunities out there. How high-tech. They were just in awe," Myers said.
The guidance counselor bus tours paved the way for a greater awareness by school officials about local opportunities in manufacturing. "They see it and are pushing for it," he said.
Myers said company leaders then decided to make contact with the students themselves.
Myers said too many people in manufacturing complain about the school system, about young people ignoring their field. But the actions in Sandusky County are opening the door.