Cook, a welding instructor at Des Moines Area Community College, made that comment last Friday, shortly after a group of his students from high schools in Carlisle, Norwalk, and Indianola left a tour of Cemen Tech in Indianola.
Cemen Tech, a maker of mobile and stationary concrete mixers, is one of roughly 150 Iowa businesses who are opening their doors during special events this month to celebrate national Manufacturing Day. In Iowa, the October 6 event for years has been commemorated by a month-long drive to reach out to young people and educate them on the benefits of a career in manufacturing.
Michelle Eggleston, human resources manager at Cemen Tech, described Manufacturing Day events as part of a broader outreach strategy that also has the company regularly visiting high schools and community colleges. The goal is to educate students about the culture and advancement opportunities available at a company that prides itself on taking care of its own.
“Having them come in here and start here, they may end up going somewhere else” for their first jobs, Eggleston said. “But we may get them back.”
Companies across Iowa view Manufacturing Day as a chance to get noticed by a future workforce that will be sorely needed to fill future manufacturing jobs.
Iowa currently is home to roughly 6,040 manufacturing firms, according to an annual “Manufacturing In Iowa” report compiled by CIRAS. Together, manufacturing firms form the second largest sector of Iowa business activity (behind “Financial Activities”) and represent 18.3 percent of Iowa’s total Gross Domestic Product. Manufacturers contributed $31.2 billion to the state’s economy in 2014 and exported $12.7 billion worth of manufactured goods to other countries.
As part of an overall effort to elevate advanced manufacturing, CIRAS has been working to help coordinate “MFG Day events in all 99 counties. Our partners include Iowa community colleges, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI), and Iowa Works.
“I think the goal in general is to keep people interested and get them to understand that these opportunities are right here,” said Scott Moyer, director of marketing for Dee Zee. “We need good people, and it’s tough right now with unemployment down…. I mean, we have 1,100-plus employees, and right now I think we have almost 100 openings.”
Dee Zee, a Des Moines maker of truck accessories, invited students from two high schools and three colleges to tour its manufacturing plants last Friday. That was followed by a career fair and a lunch of walking tacos.
Moyer said the company, which drew roughly 80 students, intends to participate in Manufacturing Day next year, as well.
Meanwhile, Sukup Manufacturing Co., which makes grain bin, grain dryers and other equipment, also opened its doors to high schools students for a tour to show off a virtual welder, electronic programming and a painting simulation. Matt Koch, an electrical engineer at Sukup, said the company relished its opportunity to show young people “that Sukup is actually ‘high tech’ and on top of that, really fun and engaging.”
“It was cool to see the insides of the buildings and how they actually make the products, because you don’t actually get to see this stuff that often,” said Tristan Rothove, a sophomore at Northwood-Kensett High School.
Freshman Glenn Van Sabben agreed: “Everything is way more efficient than I thought.”
Manufacturing Day events continue across the state throughout the month of October. For more information, visit www.MFGDay.com and search for Iowa under the “Find an Event” menu.