Despite the improved economy, local manufacturers still struggle to find skilled workers. Some company leaders have even been visiting high schools to encourage young people to consider a career in the skilled trades.
One new high school grad who did not need coaxing to head into the skilled trades is Gary Large. He grew up on a farm in Port Washington.
“On the farms, I work with my hands a lot. I weld, I fix things, I milk cows. I do all that. What I like to do is to fix and fixing requires a lot of welding on the farm. A lot of things break and need to be joined back together,” Large says.
Large plans to pursue a degree in welding at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He developed some skills at Port Washington High School. It offers a metal lab and at least 20 classes related to welding, automotive technology and construction.
Taylor Last teaches welding and machining classes at Port Washington. “They are full because they really enjoy taking the classes. Many of our students start out at the very basic intro level and then they work their way on up through,” he says.
Last says a few years ago students weren’t interested in the skilled trades. But attitudes started changing when manufacturers began visiting, and a local foundation gave the school money to purchase more equipment.
The opportunities ignited Skyler Sandlin’s interests.
“I’ve always found the inner working of things fascinating. My entire life I’ve been a hands-on person, woodworking, metal working. It’s the way I grew up and what I find interesting in life,” Sandlin says.
The graduating senior will pursue electrical engineering at UW-Platteville this fall.
Another district offering students more manufacturing classes is Milwaukee Public Schools. More than 30 of its campuses now offer courses in engineering and manufacturing. Brian Bowen took classes in welding and construction at Bradley Tech High School.
“Just building things for other people, like right now we’re building dog sheds and garden sheds for schools and local houses around us has been one of my greatest takeaways from these classes,” Bowen says.
Bowen has earned a scholarship to MATC and hopes to eventually own a construction business. He says he grew up in the central city and wants to use his skills to give back.
“I see many homeless people and I want to be that person to get them off the street and put them into houses. That way, we’ll have less poverty or I can build jobs and get people into jobs,” Bowen says.
This summer, Bradley Tech will host its first manufacturing camp, for middle school students. The goal is to expose more kids, at an early age, to the existence of skilled trades.