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Jefferson-Lewis Manufacturing Day spotlights industry’s need for young talent

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High school students often make the mistake of quickly ruling out a career in the manufacturing industry, overlooking the presence of strong local businesses that are looking for skilled young workers.

They’ll get a real glimpse of those jobs next spring, however, as numerous manufacturers in Jefferson and Lewis counties will open their doors for field trips to 11 of the 19 school districts in the region.

That plan was highlighted Friday during Manufacturing Day at the Fireside at Partridge Berry Inn, attended by about 40 stakeholders including teachers, guidance counselors and industry leaders. The daylong event included a lively round-table discussion with a panel of manufacturing leaders, along with a tour of the New York Air Brake facility at 748 Starbuck Ave.

Because of the limited talent pool of young workers, manufacturers in Jefferson and Lewis counties say they will face an uphill climb as workers from the Baby Boomer generation retire over the next decade.

One of the keys to solving that dilemma, industry experts say, will be getting high school students to tour manufacturing companies firsthand and learn about the skills needed for careers. Manufacturers that participated in the discussion and will host field trips for students this spring include Watertown-based New York Air Brake, Jain Irrigation, Packaging Corp. of America and Timeless Frames, along with QubicaAMF in Lowville.

Ken C. Kozin, who teaches technology and businesses classes at Lowville Academy and Central School, was one of a handful of educators who said schools need to do a better job teaming up with manufacturers.

“We need to show students that manufacturing today isn’t the old-school manufacturing,” he said during the discussion. “I like to show students as much as I can with field trips, but I’d like to have more manufacturers support me and come in to talk.”

Mr. Kozin takes his high school students on a field trip every year to Otis Technology, Lyons Falls, which produces a wide range of products for the military. Students are invariably impressed after finishing the tour of the 67,000-square-foot facility, which changes the way they think about manufacturing, Mr. Kozin said.

“There’s a lot we can’t show students at school, but they get to see the different (manufacturing) processes during the tour,” he said.

Industry stakeholders and educators will continue to meet every month to develop a model for actively involving local manufacturers at school districts, said Tracy J. Gyoerkoe, director of career, technical, adult and continuing education at Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Ms. Gyoerkoe is a member of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency’s manufacturing committee, which meets monthly to organize events.

“We want to raise the awareness with teachers and guidance counselors about manufacturing jobs, and I think we’ve done that today,” she said Friday.

Cheryl A. Mayforth, director of the WorkPlace employment agency, said the event was part of an ongoing effort to link manufacturers and educators.

That effort kicked off with the Jefferson-Lewis Manufacturers Summit, a round-table discussion in April that included more than 50 manufacturers and work force leaders.

Mrs. Mayforth said she hopes that ultimately, more students will get a real glimpse of rewarding careers offered by manufacturers in Jefferson and Lewis counties.

“Manufacturing is everything from developing brake systems for trains, building frames for pictures, or small motors,” she said. “It means a lot of different things.”

Mrs. Mayforth said the JCIDA manufacturing committee will host another educational program for stakeholders next spring.

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