SCHOFIELD – While the Heavy Metal Bus Tour name might conjure images of face-melting guitar riffs and screaming fans, the event scheduled for Oct. 8 in north central Wisconsin has a slightly different objective.
The buses will carry not rock stars, but eighth-grade students — about 3,200 of them from more than 30 schools districts — and instead of being destined for concert venues, the youngsters will be making stops at various manufacturing facilities to learn about the types of jobs and careers available in the world of manufacturing.
One facility they’ll be visiting is Jarp Industries in Schofield, a maker of hydraulic cylinders and other products for equipment manufacturers. There, they’ll see “cool, modern technology,” said Jarp CEO Kevin Kraft. “What it really takes to make stuff today.” Kraft said the visit will change kids’ perception that manufacturing is “dumb, dirty and dangerous.”
“(They’ll) be able to see clean facilities — facilities that are not dumb. It’s very high-tech equipment; it requires people who can think on the job,” Kraft said. “It’s not just this mundane labor … where you’re paying for people’s backs. Today you’re paying for people’s brains, and that’s what manufacturing’s about today.”
Kraft’s business is part of the Central Wisconsin Metal Manufacturers Alliance, a group of metal manufacturers in the region who’ve banded together to address a current and projected shortage of skilled workers. The tour is one way of doing that, showing 13- and 14-year-olds what today’s manufacturing world looks like and the jobs — machinist, welder, fabricator or other positions — that will be available when they enter the workforce.
This is the third such tour and it will feature 46 manufacturers, said Bruce Trimble, employer services director for the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board.
Trimble is heavily involved with both the Heavy Metal Tour and the Manufacturers Alliance, which formed in early 2013 when manufacturers realized they needed to do more to build a pipeline of future workers to address an employee shortage caused by retirements and what has come to be called the “skills gap,” a real or perceived gap between the number of available jobs and the employees with the skills needed to fill them.
The teens from Marathon, Lincoln, Portage, Wood and Oneida counties also will be visiting campuses of three technical colleges: the Wausau and Antigo campuses ofNorthcentral Technical College; the Marshfield and Stevens Point campuses of Mid-State Technical College; and Nicolet College in Rhinelander.
Trimble said the tour costs about $45,000 to put on, with 75 percent of that total funded by manufacturers. The rest is shared by the three technical colleges, the Workforce Development Board, Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Centergy and Grow North regional economic development organizations.
This year, parents also will have the chance to be involved in the tour. Kraft said Jarp is one of several businesses that will be hosting an open house in the evening geared toward parents. “That’s new this year,” Kraft said. “We’re hoping to get the parents to come and see what the kids did that day and see what it’s like to be inside our building.”
Bob Dohr can be reached at 715-845-0660. Find him on Twitter as @BobDohr1.