High School Students Tackle Manufacturing Skills Gap

Dylan Flores (from left), Austin Wagner and Collin Grudzinski pull metal cutouts off a CNC machine at Hustisford High School. The school has a student-run business, Husty Heavy Manufacturing, which performs machine shop work for area manufacturers.
Dylan Flores (from left), Austin Wagner and Collin Grudzinski pull metal cutouts off a CNC machine at Hustisford High School. The school has a student-run business, Husty Heavy Manufacturing, which performs machine shop work for area manufacturers. Credit: Sam Caravana via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

High Schools in Wisconsin have a unique way to combat the manufacturing skills gap: Student Owned Businesses.

If there’s one albatross above all others hovering over America’s manufacturers, it’s the difficulty of finding a qualified workforce. While technological innovation has eliminated many of the jobs once done by low-skilled workers, manufacturers still struggle to fill high-skilled jobs as older workers retire and people entering the field often don’t have the skills or experience needed to run complex machines in a fast paced environment. In an effort to combat that some Wisconsin high schools have launched for-profit businesses that give students experience in areas such as product design and metal fabrication.

One such businesses is Husty Heavy Manufacturing, at Hustisford High School, which is gearing up to do work for area companies. The projects could be something simple like cutting, grinding and sanding metal parts for a manufacturer, or something more complicated like creating custom products using 3-D printers. The business takes metal-shop experiences to a higher level that includes areas such as budgeting, marketing, product design and real-world problem solving, as well as “soft skills” like communication with clients. The businesses at some schools have even generated enough revenue to pay students something for their efforts, participants with student-run Cardinal Manufacturing at Eleva-Strum High School have received upwards of $2,000 for their hard work. And that is the sort of thing that would get any high school student’s attention.

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