Closing the skills gap: High-school students learn metalworking and make money, too

July 01, 2013

Capturing the interest of students and whetting their appetite for careers in manufacturing isn’t always easy. The key, say many mold companies looking for ways to engage the next generation of mold makers, is getting them interested during junior high and high school. 
Eleva-Strum Central High School in Strum, WI, has elevated their technology program into an actual manufacturing business called Cardinal Manufacturing, a student-run machine shop. Authentic learning is key to teaching the metalworking trades, and at Cardinal Manufacturing students learn not only machine tool technology but also the basic elements of entrepreneurship, giving them a taste of the real business world.

Cardinal Manufacturing
Students Luke Pedersen (l) and Gabe Toft (r) work and learn at Cardinal Manufacturing.

Cardinal Manufacturing is a self-funding program. According to Craig Cegielski, Tech Ed Instructor at Eleva-Strum High School, “Rather than selling candy bars to raise money, we sell machining.” Students typically begin the program in their 8th- or 9th-grade year, and by their junior and senior years are eligible for part-time internship work at local machine shops and moldmaking companies in the area.
“We try to mimic industry at Cardinal so the students learn everything about running a machine shop,” Cegielski told PlasticsToday in an interview at the recent Amerimold Expo where Cardinal had a booth.

In addition to gaining machining and welding experience, students in the program are responsible for quoting jobs, ordering material and tools, manufacturing parts, ensuring quality control, handling accounting, shipping product, invoicing, and providing customer service. “When given adult-like responsibilities the students begin to demonstrate skills in many areas including communication, math, problem-solving, teamwork, and marketable machining and welding skills,” Cegielski added.

Companies in the area that do business with Cardinal include Philips Plastics, which has become a big supporter of the program, Cegielski said. Juniors and seniors are given the opportunity to apply for the technology program each year after completing 8th grade tech and metal working I and II. They are required to have a résumé and portfolio of their work. They are then given an interview just as if they were applying for a real job.

And just like a real job, the students have a profit sharing plan. Last year Cardinal grossed about $40,000 from the work the students did. Each of the 12 students received a profit share of about $1000. Typical projects range from a production run of one to 15 parts, and tend to be those small production runs that large companies find too time-consuming. “These projects provide the perfect learning experience and a winning situation for both the students and the participating companies,” Cegielski said.

Cegielski said that obtaining equipment for the program has always been the difficult part. However, one machine shop in the area donated a Mazak CNC lathe. The students are then equipped to work at that machine shop because they are familiar with the Mazatrol machine controllers. The school welcomes any donations from companies. In the past companies and individuals have donated new equipment, used equipment, tooling, services, training, consulting and money. Cardinal will pick up any donated items and provide a letter of donation for tax purposes, and list the donating company or individual on their website’s supporters page.

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