Manufacturing Day Aims to Change Students’ Perceptions

Last year, Traverse City East Middle School assistant principal Marcus Mead took a group of eighth graders out of classrooms and into the plants of local manufacturers.

It was an eye-opening experience for the students, Mead said, and one he expects will draw even greater participation this year.

“I think we had about 40 or 50 kids participate, and I would expect that number to go up for sure this year,” Mead said. “The kids came back so excited, telling all their friends…what they had been a part of.”

That excitement is what annual Manufacturing Day hopes to generate. This Oct. 7 marks the third year Traverse City will hold its version of the nationally-recognized day in which manufacturers open their doors to students – some of whom could become part of their future workforce – and highlight what they do and career opportunities.

Betsy WilliamsIt works toward “changing the perception of what manufacturing is,” said Betsy Williams, business development and training specialist for Northwestern Michigan College and the regional office of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center or MMTC, which jointly organize the event in collaboration with the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council. “They’re great jobs, they’re here in our region, the manufacturers do so much to support our region, and this is a way to showcase it.”

The local event has grown from eight manufacturers hosting 300 students in 2014, to an anticipated 30 manufacturers this year and the goal of touring 800 eighth and ninth-grade students in the region. Exposure is also expanding to the elementary level, with MMTC staff and manufacturers planning to visit Traverse City Area Public Schools’ second-grade classes and engage students with an interactive presentation and activity book “on what manufacturing is all about,” Williams said.

The older students who tour facilities this year will make stops at two plants rather than the previous three, and tours are lengthening from 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Manufacturers’ facilities span a variety of products and applications; one example is R.M. Young Co., which designs and manufactures meteorological instruments used in such areas as marine navigation, transportation safety, agriculture, climate studies and meteorological stations.

“The variety of manufacturing companies in Traverse City and what they do in different industries, is fascinating to see and understand,” said Bill Myers, R.M. Young marketing manager. He said Manufacturing Day gives students an idea of jobs in their “own backyard” and particularly those that require science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, skills.

Mead told students on last year’s field trip they would be building relationships and he made a strong connection to career options or job prospects in the future. And, he said, going to a factory “to see what was available out there…we wanted them to remember us…but also wanted the kids to remember how the things that they’re learning in class, math class and science class, can be used in the real world.”

Manufacturing Day information is available through Williams at (231) 995-2018;

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.