Showing off the changing world of manufacturing

MATC tour aims to help future students see benefits of training

Oct. 9, 2012

Oak Creek - Manufacturing isn't what it used to be.

In fact, it's cleaner and safer, and still can be quite lucrative.

That's the message Milwaukee Area Technical College hoped to send during its Heavy Metal Tour, which brought 100 middle and high school students from throughout the region - including Franklin and Oak Creek schools - to tour its 34,000-square-foot Energy Conservation and Advanced Manufacturing facility in Oak Creek on Saturday.

Students had the opportunity to learn about computer numerical control, machine tour operation, welding and other heavy manufacturing programs offered at the college, and to connect with representatives of Caterpiller, PPG Industries and others who hire people with manufacturing skills.

"The manufacturing environment today is one that's highly automated," said Joseph Jacobsen, associate dean of environmental studies at MATC. "So it's no longer where you've got a lathe that you can lose a finger on. The old image of a cutting tool is that you have to keep your distance. Today, with our CNC machines, you have to close the panel door before it starts cutting. It's all done through a computer interface."

In today's industry, soft skills count.

"If you can work on teams, pass a drug test and learn some of these basic skills, you can go very far," Jacobsen said. "It's not unusual for a good machinist to make $100,000 a year. I'm hearing that a lot."

Spreading that bit of information could be important to the area's work force, and future work force.

"There's a huge demand in Oak Creek for people who are willing to have a positive attitude toward work," Jacobsen said.

And letting parents see the manufacturing skills that MATC prepares its students with is equally important. Their opinion can help sway a young student into or away from such training.

"When parents think of manufacturing they think of it when they grew up, and that's not that attractive. The whole industry has changed completely," Jacobsen said. "They need to realize the change. The counselors have to think about how we need manufacturers out there and we need people who will work in those plants."

Young people aren't getting exposed to manufacturing opportunities as much as they may have been in the past, said Kathleen Hohl, MATC communications director.

"Events like Saturday helped show them that our classroom is clean and bright, and if they pursue a degree it replicates their workplace," she said.

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