By Louise Ronald
Brightside writer Louise Ronald was embedded with Northeastern High School students for 2019’s Manufacturing Day tours at SugarCreek Brandworthy Food Solutions in Cambridge City and Ahaus Tool and Engineering, Inc. in Richmond.
Eric Partin’s first glimpse of Ahaus Tool & Engineering was on a Manufacturing Day tour when he was taking a machine tool class as part of the Career Technology Education program at Richmond High School.
Partin’s teacher, Matt Amos, had worked at Ahaus and told his students about the Richmond plant that designs and creates machines which, in turn, create parts used to build things.
“I couldn’t really comprehend … this place by word alone,” Partin admits now.
Being able to see the plant and the work being done there changed everything.
He started asking his teacher more about the company and in his senior year, with Amos’ support, joined Ahaus’ apprenticeship program.
Normally, the program takes five years of working during the day and taking classes at Ivy Tech Community College – paid for by the company – at night. By taking advantage of opportunities to work extra hours on projects Ahaus was completing at the time, Partin finished his apprenticeship in three years. For the past two years, he’s been a full-time manufacturing assistant. He and his wife, Pacia, recently bought a house together.
The program, Partin said, “kind of gives you a head start in life.”
Right now, he is a management office assistant, CNC mill operator, lathe machinist, tool and die maker, and getting trained in project management. That’s Partin’s dream job “for now, depending on the opportunities ahead.”
He isn’t 25 yet.
When a group of Northeastern High School students toured Ahaus on Manufacturing Day 2019, Partin was asked to say a few words.
After a brief description of his career so far, Partin delivered this simple message: “If it worked for me, it could work for you guys as well.”
Manufacturing Day happens annually on the first Friday in October. It’s organized by the National Association of Manufacturers to help change public perceptions of modern manufacturing. From its beginnings in 2012, Manufacturing Day now boasts some 3,000 events across North America.
Since 2013, the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County has worked with the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce to be part of those events, said EDC President Valerie Shaffer. In 2015, the focus shifted from community open houses at manufacturing facilities to providing tours for county high schools.
“If the idea is to change the image of manufacturing as a career,” Shaffer said, “why not change that image for high school students?”
The tours have proven popular with both manufacturers and schools.
“We find that our employers want to connect with the students to find future employees,” said Roxie Deer, Director of Programs and Events for the Chamber. “It gives kids a chance to see the real world and that there are plenty of options out there for them.”
Ivy Tech works with the EDC and the Chamber to organize Manufacturing Day in Wayne County.
Kim Thurlow, Workforce Consultant and Dean of Advanced Manufacturing Schools at the community college is enthusiastic about the event. “I really think it helps educate the students on the depth and breadth of manufacturing opportunities in our community,” she said.
Jason Roll teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School in Fountain City and has participated in the tours the past two years.
“I think there is real value in Manufacturing Day myself and I’m glad that the students have the opportunity to see what is happening in their community on an industry level,” Roll said after accompanying a busload of Northeastern students on tours of the SugarCreek Brandworthy Food Solutions plant near Cambridge City and Ahaus in Richmond for the 2019 event.
“Students get to see first-hand that there are opportunities in their community to be successful and obtain careers,” said Roll.
The students were favorably disposed to a future in manufacturing.
“I really just want to be a hands-on person,” said Northeastern senior Garrett Carpenter.
“I’ve always been told that factory work is probably one of the best jobs you can get,” said Jacob Rose, also a senior.
The approximately 40 student participants on the tours are enrolled in agricultural technology and/or automotive classes at Northeastern.
In the morning, they were greeted by SugarCreek Plant Manager, Ron Holbrook, who gave an overview of operations at the 418,000-square-foot facility which employs more than 600 workers over three shifts.
“We love to show the plant off,” Holbrook told the group. “We’re very proud of it.”
The students broke into smaller groups for the tour with guide Jeanna Gambill, a team development manager for SugarCreek.
“There’s always going to be jobs in manufacturing,” she told the students. “There’s a lot of hands-on in the stuff we do.”
A snack of caramelized onion meatballs (one of the plant’s many products) at the end of the tour livened up the group. Several were talking about what they had seen.
When a representative from SugarCreek’s Human Resources department talked about part-time and summer work available to 18-year-olds, something clicked with Northeastern senior Thomas Middleton.
During the tour, he’d said he wanted to go into factory work at some point, but expected to continue in his fast-food job immediately after high school.
As soon as the HR representative finished her presentation, Middleton took her aside to ask a lot of questions.
In other words, the company started a conversation with a potential future employee and the student became aware of an opportunity he hadn’t known about before.
Wayne County Manufacturing Day in a nutshell.
After joining other participating high schools for lunch and a talk at Ivy Tech, the Northeastern bus went to Ahaus, where students showed immediate interest.
When tour guide Branden Mathews asked his small group which of them liked to work on cars, all hands were raised.
Junior Brittany Phenis was the only girl among the Northeastern students. She hopes to study diesel technology at the University of Northwestern Ohio after high school. Throughout the tour of the machine shop floor, Phenis was engaged and attentive.
The students were exposed to the whole breadth of the operation at Ahaus, including designing, planning, sales and administration. HR Manager Marty Hancock stressed the variety of skills a manufacturing company requires to be successful.
Co-owner Jeff Sheridan put it succinctly when he addressed the students at the end of their tour.
“I hope you realize what is here in this community,” Sheridan said.
“Quite frankly, we need you.”