Manufacturing Day observed in Coweta

by Clay Neely


John Michalewicz speaks to the difficulties of hiring new personnel in the manufacturing sector. 

Coweta County industries and educators came together as part of National Manufacturing Day Oct. 4 to explore ways to promote manufacturing in the classroom and how the two groups can work together in the future.

The goal of National Manufacturing Day, which is the first Friday of October every year, is to help demonstrate the potential of modern manufacturing and to promote interest in manufacturing careers. Manufacturing Day was created to correct the perception that manufacturing environments are antiquated factories designed for low-skilled workers.

Instead, manufacturing of today includes highly trained, well-paid employees who work on state-of- the-art equipment.

As part of the Coweta initiative, the Coweta County School System identified a teacher in each school to participate in the day-long event. Educators traveled to Grenzebach Corporation for a tour of the facility to see the type of work that is done and to see the job skills necessary for success.

After the tour, the teachers had a chance to participate in roundtable discussions with local industry leaders to discuss ways to collaborate.

John Michalewicz, senior production manager for Kawasaki Construction Machinery, didn’t mince words when it came to the gap that is facing the modern manufacturing industry.

“Our industry has shifted from employing the guy who didn’t have to know how to read or write to the point now where we won’t even look at a candidate who hasn’t completed high school — mainly because it gives us an idea that if someone can’t graduate from high school, it’s pretty likely they aren’t inclined to finish anything that they start. That mentality won’t work in the business world.”

He also spoke to the growing lack of employees with basic soft-skills.

“We have people who can understand the technology that we employ but can’t speak to another human being without the help of a cell phone. If you can’t communicate with someone, we can’t use you. Even at the workplace, people on their break don’t talk to each other, they’re talking to someone else on a cell phone,” said Michalewicz.

The question was then posed to several teachers: “Why aren’t young people gravitating towards manufacturing?”

Responses ranged from the students’ lack of knowledge or an incorrect perception into the field of manufacturing all the way to the perceived notion of hard, physical work and the trepidation towards entering a line of work that would include such criteria.

This roundtable discussion was an appropriate segway into the formal presentation by Donald White, science content specialist for Coweta County School System and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) internship program and introducing students into high-end industry. The goal is to have Coweta’s great students stay in our community and contribute.

“I hope for our teachers today, there has been a shift that has taken place,” said White.

“Take what you’ve learned today and multiply it. Our teachers multiply the knowledge and resources we give them. They reach thousands of children throughout their career and that’s an incredibly powerful conduit for applying change,” said White.

“Making the Real World A Classroom” was the primary topic which began the discussion by White, exploring the similar issues that both teachers and employers in the field of manufacturing are facing.

White first queried the audience with a statement: “I’ve got a job to do and not enough resources to get the job done. How many of you in both education and manufacturing can attest to this dilemma?”

“The solution is connecting the classroom with what goes on in the workplace,” said White.

White explained how he ultimately felt the connection between industry and his classroom through the CEISMC (the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing) program at Georgia Tech where the goal of the program is to ensure that K-12 students in Georgia receive the best possible preparation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as they seek their place in the modern world.

“STEM isn’t just about that (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). It’s about building usable skills — problem solving, analytical thinking and creativity. Our industry partners are echoing the same need for these kinds of skills,” said White.

White explained that it is in the educators’ best interest to encourage industry representatives into their classrooms.

“We have a very development friendly county. We’re trying to bring more and more here. The options are unlimited at the CEC. Ask us and we’ll put it together. If you can dream it, we can build it for you. Connecting the classroom to the real world is a model that works,” said White.

Mark Whitlock, CEO of Central Educational Center followed. “We have to give thanks to all our industry partners,” he said. “You won’t find a community like Coweta County where we are lucky to live in a community that has an industry base that is so diversified and willing to help. We have some of the best and brightest teachers. I encourage you to keep those ideas with you.”

However, Whitlock believes the need for a different language exists. “When the phrase ‘not everyone needs to go to college’ is used, what we really mean is that not everyone needs a four-year degree from a university.”

“There is a difference between college and university. Think about your terminology when you talk to your students. WGTC does things that are very short term: certificates, diplomas, associate degrees — things our business community wants accomplished. It takes such a short period of time and costs much less. The change in our economy is the change that WGTC represents,” said Whitlock.

“Lets take education and make it more efficient and more effective for our students,” said Whitlock.

One of the attendees was Catherine Nolan, a math and science academy coordinator of STEM students at East Coweta High School.

“This is another outlet for our students to learn what there is in the world and what awaits them. Students don’t have a concept of what awaits them after high school if they’re not interested in university,” said Nolan.

“The tour of Grenzebach was enlightening it was so surprising that they were having a hard time finding skilled workers because it was something I grew up thinking was readily available,” she said.

Nolan believes that there is a need for students who have tech abilities but who aren't interested in college.

“The manufacturing industry really need these students and no one is telling the students that these jobs are very viable. They simply don’t know about the positions that are available out there,” said Nolan.

“It’s either you go into some kind of highly exposed profession such as doctor, lawyer, firefighter, policeman, reporter or you end up working as a waiter or waitress. They don’t realize that these high skill/ high pay positions are available to them and definitely accessible to the less than typical university student,” said Nolan. “It’s the disconnect from when I grew up to now.” 

 * * *

(The Manufacturing Day teacher event was organized through a partnership between Georgia Tech, the Coweta County School System, West Georgia Technical College and the Coweta County Development Authority. The planning team included Larry Alford, regional manager with Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute; Greg Wright, president Coweta County Development Authority; Brenda Washington, of the Development Authority; Mark Whitlock, CEO of Central Educational Center; Donald White, science content specialist for Coweta County School System; Martin Pleyer, vice president of operations for Grenzebach; Pete Snell, WGTC assistant vice president, Economic Development; and Peter Ludlow, WGTC associate provost.)

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