published Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Bradley County, Cleveland high school students explore manufacturing

Lawrence Armstrong, a lead operator at Lonza's Charleston, Tenn., facility, discusses robotics and industrial technology with sophomores from Walker Valley High School. The students toured the site as part of Cleveland Associated Industries' participation in National Manufacturing Day on Friday.
Lawrence Armstrong, a lead operator at Lonza's Charleston, Tenn., facility, discusses robotics and industrial technology with sophomores from Walker Valley High School. The students toured the site as part of Cleveland Associated Industries' participation in National Manufacturing Day on Friday.
Photo by Paul Leach.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- More than 300 high school students from the Bradley County and Cleveland school systems visited 11 industrial facilities on Friday as part of National Manufacturing Day.

Sophomore tour groups from Bradley Central, Cleveland and Walker Valley High Schools spent their morning with manufacturers such as Olin, Lonza, Wacker, Cormetech, Whirlpool, Mars Chocolate and P&G Duracell, all members of manufacturer organization Cleveland Associated Industries.

Talking with plant personnel about opportunities in the manufacturing sector was very interesting, said Yoori Shin, a Walker Valley sophomore who visited the Lonza chemical-producing facility in Charleston, Tenn.

"Plus the good money doesn't hurt either," she said.

The day was a great opportunity to show students how biology and chemistry are applied in the workforce, said Amber Blair, who teaches those subjects at Walker Valley.

Each host company provided students with information about what it produces, what types of opportunities it offers and what kind of education and aptitudes it looks for in potential employees, said Lisa Pickel, director of Cleveland Associated Industries.

Pickel said the organization seeks to follow the objective of National Manufacturing Day, which is "to address common misconceptions about manufacturing by giving manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show, in a coordinated effort, what manufacturing is -- and what it isn't."

Nowadays, manual labor is giving way to an increasingly automated environment, said Ken Corley, plant manager at Olin and president of the manufacturers organization.

"Today's manufacturing employees need a different skill set," Corley said. "We look for people with problem-solving and communication skills and the ability to work in teams."

The event allows manufacturers to address the shortage of skilled labor that they face, to connect with future generations, take charge of the public image of manufacturing and ensure ongoing prosperity of the whole industry, Pickel said.

"Hopefully, by opening up shop floors, we will be able to show modern manufacturing for what it is -- a sleek, technology-driven industry that offers secure, good-paying jobs," Pickel said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of June 2013 some 215,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States were unfilled, Pickel said. This is mostly due to a gap in job requirements and skills of job seekers within the manufacturing sector, she said.

Bradley County ranks eighth in Tennessee for annual average manufacturing employment, Pickel said.

National Manufacturing Day is celebrated by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Manufacturing Institute, the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, and the U.S. Commerce Department's Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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