About 100 area high school students toured an area business Friday, learning about local jobs available in their community and the skills needed to land one of these career opportunities. The tour coincided with Manufacturing Month, a statewide event designed to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.

Students from Bruce, Flambeau, Lake Holcombe and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser schools toured Rockwell Automation in the city’s industrial park on Oct. 4. The manufacturer currently employs about 270 workers in Ladysmith with 232 of those in production and another 41 salaried positions in the areas of management, engineering and production control. It runs 29 production lines, manufacturing starters, safety mats, plastics, switches, push buttons and handles.

Globally, Rockwell has $6.7 billion in annual sales and employs 22,000 workers with 9,000 of those jobs in the U.S. It’s headquarters is in Milwaukee.

Manufacturing Month was kicked off with National Manufacturing Day on Oct. 4. Sponsored statewide by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the day included tours of other manufacturing facilities around the state.

Manufacturing is the number one contributor to Wisconsin’s economy, producing $63 billion in total output in 2018 which translates to 19 percent of Wisconsin’s total Gross Domestic Product. Additionally, the state’s more than 9,000 manufacturers employed 475,000 people last year.

Nearly 1 in 5 workers in the state work in manufacturing.

Due to retirements and economic expansion, there will be significant opportunities for employment in Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry, underscoring the need to ensure a robust talent pipeline now and in the years to come. Manufacturing Month helps to promote manufacturing as a viable career in Wisconsin.

The tour helped showcase many of the rewarding, highly skilled manufacturing jobs this area offers, according to Rockwell Automation Operations Quality Manager Joe Makovsky. “The reason for this event is to promote manufacturing in the Rusk County community,” he said.

“We want to promote manufacturing to high school students to understand all that goes on in a facility like ours,” Makovsky said.

He called community involvement a key component in the success of manufacturing and commerce.

Students observed high-tech robotics in operation. They saw switches being  manufactured to meet extreme tolerances. They heard department heads and assembly workers describe the work they do. They heard some jobs start at more than $20 per hour.

Some jobs required additional education after high school. Some don’t.

Manufacturing positions include light assembly, machine operators, material handlers, inspectors, testers, maintenance and tool & die. Office positions include quality engineers, manufacturing engineers, production control, environmental and safety, human resources and manager and supervisors.

Jobs include corporate, engineering, technician, sales, service, supply chain, operations and information technology.

The Ladysmith facility opened in 1989. The plant covers 155,000 square feet of floor space with annual sales of about $200 million.

A turret press at the Ladysmith plant cost the company $600,000.

Makovsky told students the plant has difficulty filling some positions, especially highly skilled maintenance and tool & die positions. He added manufacturers often look to “grow their own” through hiring, training and interning programs.

“There are a lot of jobs out there right now,” Makovsky said.

Flambeau High School senior Joseph Tester called the tour interesting. He is interested in heating and ventilation as a career after high school.

“It was an excellent overview of how the plant runs and how people do their jobs and the equipment they use,” Tester said.

Lake Holcombe tech ed teacher Andy Lorenzen called the event an excellent tour of the operation.

“I had no idea the extensive range of what they do at Rockwell.  It was good for our students to see the employment opportunities in our community,” Lorenzen said.

Bruce High School Introduction to Business class participated in a Rockwell Automation tour.

“I found it neat and interesting that a company in Ladysmith is so internationally spread out around the world,” Bruce student Isaabella Downer said. “I thought it was impressive on how precise their measurements had to be on their tools and dies they used to make the products. Running that robot was cool and would be something I think I could do.”

Bruce student John Woodmansee said it would be great to work at a place like Rockwell because of the variety of jobs they have a person could do.

Bruce student Kyle Schuller is thinking of going into a field like manufacturing. “A job as a manager would be great, but being an engineer would be really cool because of being able to design products and it would be a challenging job,” he said.

Chetek-Weyerhaeuser tech ed teacher Mikel Cobb believes the industry tours show students the great number of interesting jobs that are available in the field. He noted the importance of being able to learn a different job and collaboration with others.

“They know there is a variety of interesting jobs out there, and they need to be able to learn the complexities of a different job they might not have gone to school for. They need to be able to learn and collaborate in many areas,” Cobb said.

Chetek-Weyerhaeuser High School sophomore Jedediah Potter walked away impressed by the large number of jobs types available in a manufacturing plant like Rockwell Automation. He is interested in mechanical engineering or software engineering as a career after high school

“It is a huge spectrum. There are so many job choices you have with one degree, in so many different fields of engineering and machining,”  Potter said. “With one degree I have a lot of choices. Whichever one doesn’t suit me I can move on to the next one.”

Gov. Tony Evers proclaimed October as Manufacturing Month, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is promoting the state’s top industry throughout the month.

On Manufacturing Day, manufacturers across the state opened their doors to communities and residents to showcase the industry and highlight the rewarding careers available to those interested in manufacturing.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce representatives kicked off a statewide tour in Green Bay, where  they featured a panel of manufacturing executives speaking about challenges and trends in the industry, highlighting the products their companies make and offering solutions to the industry’s well-known workforce shortage.

The Manufacturing Tour will also make stops in Milwaukee on Oct. 8, where National Association of Manufacturers President & CEO Jay Timmons will deliver keynote remarks and the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin winner will be announced; Wausau on Oct. 16 and Madison on Oct. 23, where Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman will deliver keynote remarks and take part in an executive panel.

“Our state’s rich manufacturing heritage is well-known throughout the world, but it is the industry’s future that is now sparking international attention,” said WMC President and CEO Kurt R. Bauer. “Thirty years ago, the industry was viewed as dumb, dirty and dangerous. Today, it is high-tech, high-skill and high-pay.”

“Manufacturing Month gives employers, educators and others a timely opportunity to discuss the family-supporting careers that are available in the industry,” Bauer added. “Our state’s manufacturers continue to grow, and they need a ready and talented workforce to take advantage of these outstanding careers.”

WMC will also be announcing the winner of the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest on Oct. 8 at the WMC Foundation Business & Industry Luncheon.

Currently Rockwell Automation in Ladysmith has three internships available, supply chain management intern, operation quality engineering intern and manufacturing engineering intern.

Makovsky hopes the Rockwell Automation tours inspire students to consider a manufacturing career. He also hopes the employer’s tour benefits every manufacturer in the area.

“We have jobs available, and we need students from these schools who can begin working right away,” Makovsky said.

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