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A Story of Student-Run Manufacturing Enterprises

NWIRC student-run enterprise

National Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) provides students, parents and communities a glimpse of modern manufacturing. It’s held on the first Friday of October and has grown exponentially since starting back in 2012. Now it’s recognized during the entire month of October with manufacturing companies, schools and organizations planning activities, tours, seminars, class presentations, networking and social media campaigns to create awareness around manufacturing. While October may be over, the spirit of MFG Day continues in northern Pennsylvania with collaborative community efforts known as student-run manufacturing enterprises.

Student-Run Manufacturing Enterprises Provide Purposeful Work and Connections

Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC), one of the Centers that make up the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is helping launch student-run enterprises throughout northwest and north-central Pennsylvania. These enterprises are connecting industry with high schools and career and technical centers for very real and purposeful work, enabling students to develop relationships with manufacturing leaders, and in some cases addressing capacity issues for these local companies.

The student-run enterprise model isn’t new, and it definitely is not a one-size-fits-all for high schools. NWIRC has been effective at bringing together schools with local industry to explore and plan for an enterprise that fits each schools’ current capabilities. The focus is kept on future growth and matching the needs of manufacturers in each community.

While no student-run enterprise is the same, the common thread is putting the information students learn in coursework to practical use. The students run all aspects of a manufacturing business, including production, machining, quality, engineering and design, sales and quoting, accounting, shipping and receiving, and marketing. They collaborate with local manufacturers to explore opportunities for production or services they can provide, quote the work, produce actual parts, invoice for the job, and everything else in between. The student-run enterprise becomes a valued part of the supply chain for their new customers.

Four schools were recognized on the state level with funding to get their student-run enterprises off the ground. This was a collaborative effort among the school district, high school/technical school, manufacturers, and NWIRC. From a grant program called Manufacturing Training to Career through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, funds were secured for launching these enterprises in their first year. One school district was also granted funding in year two for enterprise expansion. Here’s a snapshot of these student-run enterprises.

Dutch Manufacturing at Saint Marys Area High School District (Saint Marys, Pennsylvania)

Part made by students at Saint Marys Area High School
Neil Weaver, Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development and Pennsylvania Sen. Cris Dush admire a part made by students at Saint Marys Area High School

According to Saint Marys Area School District Superintendent Harley Ramsey and instructor Jess Schreiber, Dutch Manufacturing provides students with a panoramic view of manufacturing. The module-based format is supplemented by site visits and internship opportunities, as well as a robust guest speaker series. This establishes personal connections between the pre-apprentice and manufacturing companies. The program is a six-course sequence that provides an overview of powdered metal and carbon, which are central to local industry in north-central Pennsylvania. It also covers fundamentals of advanced manufacturing, introduction to manufacturing systems, mechatronic systems, digital manufacturing systems, and advanced materials and design. Project-based activities provide additional learning in materials science and the engineering design cycle.

This program addresses an urgent and continuous need for a skilled workforce in computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, automation, computer numerical control (CNC), robotics, additive manufacturing, electrical and mechanical systems, programmable logic controller controls, welding and more. There will be six stackable industry-recognized credentials that align with the Dutch Manufacturing advanced manufacturing program, including Manufacturing Skill Standards Council Certified Production Technician, Smart Automation Certification Alliance, Industry 4.0, and Associates (levels I-IV).

While this learning is taking place, the students will be doing real work for real companies, as well as creating some original products. Prior to the formal announcement of the program and grant award, input was gathered from several manufacturing companies in the region. In collaboration with Penn State DuBois Continuing and Community Education, the high school acquired two three-axis CNC machines from Penn State Behrend’s Engineering Department to add to their technology center.

BAHS Manufacturing at Bradford Area High School (Bradford, Pennsylvania)

Pennsylvania Manufacturing Training to Career Grant check presentation
Pennsylvania Manufacturing Training to Career Grant check presentation to Bradford Area High School for their student-run manufacturing enterprise

Bradford Area High School (BAHS) Principal David Ray says that the heart of the community is manufacturing. In order to advance innovation, the student-run manufacturing enterprise program will build on the relationships that the school currently has with industry. He explains the vision of the program as creating a real business to serve manufacturers. “We’ll take the silos we have at the high school among our various programs like business education, engineering technology and machine technology and bring them together as an enterprise so students can work collaboratively as a business.”

Kevryn Dixon, reliability manager at American Refining Group, attended a press conference announcing the company’s grant funding and new initiative in April 2022. She looks at this opportunity for students from two perspectives. She was a machine shop student back when she attended BAHS, so she knows the impact this program can have. Now working for a local manufacturing company herself, she is looking forward to hiring students from this program in the future. “This program shows the community working together and will have benefits for years to come,” she said.

McDowell Manufacturing at McDowell High School (Erie, Pennsylvania)

McDowell Manufacturing at McDowell High School in Erie, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tours McDowell Manufacturing at McDowell High School in Erie, Pennsylvania

McDowell Manufacturing’s student-run manufacturing enterprise is now in its third year. During the past two years, it has arranged visits for community members, manufacturers and elected officials to see its state-of-the-art technology lab. Most notable were visits from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Program instructor Kyle Bucholtz and the students have also hosted regional school district administrators, faculty and students so they could explore the program concept for consideration at their own schools. McDowell Manufacturing was recently recognized for its efforts with a NIST MEP photo shoot. They were also featured in IndustryWeek for MFG Day 2022.

WCCC Manufacturing at Warren County Career Center (Warren, Pennsylvania)

WCCC Manufacturing at Warren County Career Center
Pennsylvania Sen. Scott Hutchinson talks with students at WCCC Manufacturing at Warren County Career Center

The most recent student-run enterprise to receive funding is Warren County Career Center (WCCC) Manufacturing. The students are very excited to get the program going in January 2023 and are in the planning stages now. They recently let me know about their brainstorming on marketing ideas to attract more students to the program, including a different business name – they are leaning toward Mountain Manufacturing.

The structure for the program will be project based. Project teams will initially be comprised of students enrolled in the machine technology program who have completed at least one project-based National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) assessment their first year, two project-based NIMS assessments their second year, three their third year, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour course. Being part of WCCC Manufacturing will provide them additional training via an 11-hour Haas certification course. One goal of the program is to draw attention and attract students who are not enrolling in the machining program. It provides them exposure to machine technology and potential manufacturing career options. Since the enterprise is run like a business, it will also engage students from the multimedia marketing, pre-engineering and business programs.

Widespread Attention

This educational model is getting the attention of local elected officials in each of the areas where programs are being launched. On the eve of MFG Day 2022, Sen. Scott Hutchinson attended the announcement of the initiative in Warren. He said, “This is a win on so many levels. We, as a country, need to help our next generation to think more entrepreneurial. A program like this is a motivator to recruit students, but also the thought process learned will serve them no matter what they do.”

Liaison Between Industry and Education

NWIRC is a strategic partner with all these schools and their student-run manufacturing enterprises. As with all the manufacturing companies our center works with, we are focused on helping them grow and improve their businesses. They look to NWIRC for strategic planning and marketing support. They also need help with soft skills training on topics such as problem solving, critical thinking, and team building. In addition, our strategic business advisors are connecting local manufacturing companies with the students for project work to produce real parts within their supply chain. The interest in this educational model is gaining traction to introduce students to manufacturing careers and provide hands-on experience, which makes scaling these programs across other communities in our region a priority.

About the author

Robert Zaruta

Robert Zaruta joined the Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC) as President/CEO in 2016, after serving for 16 years with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center. He’s responsible for executive management including leadership; community relations and advocacy; risk management and compliance; and strategic, program, human resources, and financial planning. Some of his focus includes collaborating with regional partners on workforce initiatives to launch high school student-run manufacturing enterprises and Uniquely Abled Academies (a CNC training program geared to individuals with high-functioning autism). In addition to his IRC experience, he has held leadership and management positions within Fortune 500, regional and small enterprises. As an entrepreneur, he founded and led a startup telecommunications company to dynamic growth. He has a bachelor of science degree in business administration from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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