Manufacturing Day offers St. Clair County students a ‘new world of possibilities’

In 2022, Michigan’s manufacturing sector accounted for over 16% of the state’s total workforce, ranking it as the country’s fourth-highest concentration of manufacturing employment at 1.65 times the national average.

The number of manufacturing jobs is projected to keep increasing through 2030 when an estimated 4 million jobs will need to be filled. However, alongside the booming healthcare and medical supplies industries which are two of the fastest growing in Michigan, an estimated 2.1 million of these jobs are at risk of going unfilled.

Held annually in October, Manufacturing Day, also known as MFG Day, is a nationwide effort aimed at tackling this challenge. By fostering partnerships between companies and educational institutions, MFG Day aims to cultivate interest in the manufacturing sector by showcasing career paths and opportunities within the industry.

The program was launched regionally in 2015 by St. Clair County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) and has provided local high school students with hands-on career experience by partnering with private companies such as Michigan Metal Coatings, NORMA Group, PTM Corporation, and Blue Water Controls.

Yale High School’s Manufacturing Day goals

Rachel Verschaeve, Associate Director of Education Services at RESA and organizer of Manufacturing Day.Rachel Verschaeve, Associate Director of Education Services at RESA and organizer of Manufacturing Day, says annually the initiative gives around 1,700 high school sophomores countywide the chance to experience a variety of manufacturing career opportunities.

“We wanted [students] to have their own hands-on experience with the various careers,” Verschaeve says. “Going from everything from engineering, accounting, human resources, to welding and machine programming and things like that. Trying to give them their own experience in case maybe what they heard was from their aunts or uncle that had a job there 20 years ago, we wanted them to form their own opinions.”

Exposure to new experiences is one of Yale High School’s main goals according to Principal Brad Dykstra. Why do people from some locations want to pursue medicine or careers in law while others, as Dykstra asks of himself, want to become teachers? To Dykstra, the answer is because his relatives were teachers, the people he grew up around.

Erin Kovach, advisor at Yale High School.“One of our tasks is to make sure they have exposure at an early enough age where they could say ‘That may be something I can look into as a career option,’” Dykstra says. “Our thing here is it's what you're interested in, yes, but it also has to be partnered with what you're good at.”

RESA uses Manufacturing Day to prepare students for graduation by creating experiences that may help students try new trades, find their passion, or, also importantly, find what they want to avoid.

Yale High School advisor Erin Kovach credits Manufacturing Day for helping solidify students’ decisions if they were already interested in trade. For others, Kovach says “they get to see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Yale High School students pose for a photo during Manufacturing Day on Oct. 19, 2023.

The student experience

Co-owner of Blue Water Controls, Debby Wolfe, says this past October around 120 students from Yale High School spent Manufacturing Day with their company getting hands-on experience in the industry.

Karli Woolman, student at Yale High School.Students were divided into groups and taken through several stations where they learned about the design and build process while getting hands-on manufacturing experience, according to Yale High School student Karli Woolman. While each group had a different schedule, every student experienced all that manufacturing day had to offer.

Woolman says she began the day not expecting to enjoy the experience because she knew she was not interested in manufacturing in the same way some of her classmates were.

“Then I saw all the different things where you get to weld, you get to put stuff together,” Woolman says. “Once you got in there and you had seen all the different stuff, it was a pretty cool experience overall.”

According to Wolfe, students were given a block of aluminum that they took to the machining area. There, students used the mills to drill a hole in the block before taking it to the build station where they were “tapping the hole, putting the threads in, and physically assembling the two pieces together.”

At the end of the day, students left with an aluminum Yale logo they built using their newfound knowledge.

Students also learned about pneumatics, a branch of engineering that allows Blue Water Controls’ machines to move using air. Wolfe says the experience taught students how cylinders move with pneumatics and what causes the movement.

A popular station among students was the robotic station, where students used a touch screen called a human-machine interface to tell a robot to deliver a soda of their choice.

According to Woolman, students used the interface to select their desired drink. The robot then moved to a rack where cans of four different types of soda rested. It moved the selected can to a conveyor belt where the drink would be taken to the waiting student.

Yale High School students watch a robot sort soda during a demonstration at Blue Water Controls on Manufacturing Day in 2023.

Manufacturing Day’s impact

Many benefits are intangible, and while they may not always directly impact a specific company, Wolfe says Manufacturing Day makes a difference in the future workforce, in Michigan, and the U.S. economy as a whole.

Debby Wolfe, co-owner of Blue Water Controls.“It’s also a great benefit to our team,” Wolfe says. “We’ve got some highly skilled people here and they love to be able to share with the next generation and pass on those skills.”

According to a document containing student feedback, Verschaeve says students from Manufacturing Day in 2017 said the event sparked interest in machining, led to some seeing themselves working in manufacturing, and gave more respect to people working in the industry.

Woolman says she and her friend were “fascinated” by welding and that she could see many of her classmates entering the industry. While her friend is not considering manufacturing as a career, Woolman says the trip opened welding as a possibility.

Plus, the experience formed a new image of how Woolman sees factories and manufacturing.

“It was very organized,” she says. “There wasn't a bunch of stuff lying around, and they had different stations for everything. It was actually a really nice place. All the people that were there were super nice and understanding about how all the teenagers are coming in here not knowing what to expect.”

Brad Dykstra, Principal at Yale High School.Another example of setting new expectations for students comes with representation in the field. Dykstra says he remembers a student returning from the experience and saying how refreshing it was to see other women working in manufacturing.

“I just found that she got something meaningful out of this,” Dykstra says. “That women can do anything.”

The benefits extend to the companies as well. Verschaeve says Manufacturing Days have ended with students and employers exchanging contact information — allowing both sides to form an immediate connection. Immediate connections mean students and companies do not always need to wait years for graduation to potentially rekindle a connection made during a graduate’s sophomore year.

To learn more about Manufacturing Day and these partnerships, visit
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Read more articles by Joseph Goral.

Joseph Goral graduated from Oakland University in the summer of 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in communication. Before his graduation, Joseph was a digital news intern at ClickOnDetroit and a contributing writer for The Oakland Post. When Joseph is not writing, you can usually find him watching Pistons basketball, playing with his dog Biggie, doing personal photography, or spending time with friends and family.