‘Eye-opening’ event helps students discover manufacturing

Amarra Kuiper admits she wasn’t thinking of manufacturing as a career option until she had an opportunity to learn about local manufacturers. The freshman at Otsego High School took part in this year’s Discover Manufacturing Week, when more than 40 West Michigan manufacturers opened their doors to 4,000-plus high school and middle school students.

"I learned that manufacturing isn't as boring as I once thought. There is a whole community of people that work with one another every day. It is something special to be a part of,” Kuiper says. "I enjoyed learning about real-world jobs. I don't usually hear a lot about jobs in general, and it's hard to just listen about them. It was great that I got to see videos and pictures, so I had a better mental image."

In West Michigan, manufacturing accounts for 15% of all jobs, with workers earning 31% more in hourly compensation – between wages and benefits – than comparable workers in the rest of the private sector. In Ottawa and Allegan counties, the impact is even greater, according to labor market data. Manufacturing makes up 30% of all jobs, and worker pay is 32% higher.

The 2021 West Michigan Works! Hot Jobs List features 55 job titles in the high-demand manufacturing industry. The median wage for mid-career workers in these positions ranges from $15 to $58 per hour. 
New perspective for students
“Discover Manufacturing Week is a perfect example of the level at which our employers and educators are invested in providing our students with impactful, eye-opening, career-awareness activities,” says Jennifer Owens, Lakeshore Advantage president. “These activities ensure that our young people have a clear view of the many great-paying career opportunities available to them here on the Lakeshore.”

Forest Hills Northern students visit Artiflex during Discover Manufacturing Week.

The mix of in-person and virtual tours held during the first half of November showcased company facilities and introduced students to an array of career opportunities. Discover Manufacturing Week is part of the nationwide Manufacturing Day movement, created to dispel outdated images of the industry and to inspire the next generation of manufacturers. 

Manufacturing has a critical role in the West Michigan economy, adds Jerry Hill, industry council lead for Discover Manufacturing Week. 

“Our region includes more than 2,500 companies representing industries ranging from biopharmaceuticals and medical devices to food processing and automotive. These employers are looking to hire smart, hands-on learners,” Hill says. 

Discovering opportunities

More than 3,000 students participated in 10, 30-minute virtual sessions, each featuring two manufacturers highlighting job opportunities, followed by question-and-answer sessions. Nearly 1,000 students toured manufacturers in person.
Discover Manufacturing week offers a chance for students to experience advanced manufacturing first hand, which often changes their perceptions of the industry.

“I encourage all students to participate in Discover Manufacturing Week. It's a great opportunity to get to know businesses in your neighborhood and identify careers you may not have ever heard of,” says Shayna Carlson, CTE work-based learning supervisor at the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Careerline Tech Center. 

“Manufacturing has career opportunities for students in every single pathway, so no matter what you are interested in, there are opportunities to get involved. Being able to see all the innovative projects that are happening right outside their back door is a huge eye-opener for students to all the possibilities right here in West Michigan.” 

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.