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Eastern Iowa manufacturing plants open doors to students

Students from West Branch High School tour Centro, Inc. in North Liberty on Wednesday.  Nearly two dozen manufacturers are opening doors this week as part of an Advancing the Future program to interest students in manufacturing jobs.
Students from West Branch High School tour Centro, Inc. in North Liberty on Wednesday. Nearly two dozen manufacturers are opening doors this week as part of an Advancing the Future program to interest students in manufacturing jobs.(KCRG)
Published: Oct. 17, 2018 at 4:28 PM CDT
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As manufacturers add more jobs in eastern Iowa one need is finding more workers. And this week, nearly two dozen manufacturing plants will try to meet that need in the future by opening doors to 1,200 high school students.

It’s called Advancing the Future. And the week-long open houses for both students and even the public started through Kirkwood Community College’s Workplace Learning Connection five years ago.

The idea is to plant a seed. To show students, some as young as 9th graders, the kind of jobs available at manufacturing plants in eastern Iowa. The hope is a welcome mat now might pay off in the future with an interested workers.

Philip Hingst, operation manager at Centro Inc. in North Liberty, says even though some students won’t be in the job market for years it’s important to keep lines of communication open.

“We try to build a relationship with them and then if they come back to us then we start that long term relationship,” he said.

At Centro, a rotational plastics manufacturer, some managers remember perhaps two or three students who took a tour in years past eventually coming back as an employee.

A group of about 20 students from West Branch on Wednesday touring Centro included a mix of both computer science and engineering design students.

Most said they expect to need a four year degree.

But it’s possible that work, at some point, might involve a job in a manufacturing plant.

Tanner Harrison, a West Branch freshman, said “I could see it as a possibility though my first choice would be engineer. It would be good to have a fall back.”

Barrett Walsh, a junior, added “Just visiting here it shows me what sort of jobs and positions you could have here and it may give me an idea of what I want to do in the future.”

One West Branch instructor also saw another advantage to the tours.

It shows students how lessons learned in school, such as building small robots for competitions, are applied by manufacturers on a large industrial scale.

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