Heavy Metal Bus Tour

Tristan Anderson has used a computer-controlled machine to make metal tongs for fireplaces this year in his technology education classes at D.C. Everest Senior High School. And those tongs, while rudimentary, might just be the stepping stone to a career in the metal manufacturing industry.

Anderson, a 16-year-old sophomore, is the type of student local metal manufacturers need as they look for the next generation of educated and skilled workers.

Marathon County has 71 metal manufacturing and fabrication businesses that employ roughly 4,000 people, according to the Marathon County Development Corp., the economic development arm of the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce. Metal manufacturing companies in Marathon County are competitive in national and international markets and are driving business for the future, Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director David Eckmann said. Marathon County is projected to employ about 5,000 metal manufacturing employees by 2020, he said.

Anderson was one of about 65 students from 10 local schools who participated Wednesday in the Heavy Metal Bus Tour organized by MCDEVCO. The tour was designed to show students already interested in the manufacturing industry possible career choices and give the students an idea of the skills they need to develop.

"Technology is always advancing and (the industry) will need us to keep making stuff," Anderson said.

Anderson was among a group of students who visited Norlen in Schofield and Imperial industries in Rothschild. A second group toured A&B Process Systems in Stratford and Jarp Industries in Schofield.

Technical colleges and universities have built or are developing programs to train workers in the latest developments in welding, robotics and computer-operated machinery, but local businesses want to see students begin preparing for careers in manufacturing before they get into college.

Norlen Vice President and General Manager Jeff Brillhart said high school students need to develop "hard skills" such as math, blueprint reading and geometric design, as well as "soft skills" such as communication and teamwork. Norlen's metal manufacturing plant uses robotic arms, computers and old-fashioned manpower to make parts ranging from metal bottoms on fire extinguishers to handles found on military transport vehicles.

Events such as the Heavy Metal Tour are an investment in the future of local manufacturing, Brillhart said.

"It's our responsibility in the manufacturing community to give opportunities for young kids to grow a passion for this industry," Brillhart said.

Collin Pfingsten, an 18-year-old senior at D.C. Everest, was impressed by the high-tech machinery he saw and the wide variety of products developed at Norlen. Pfingsten, who has worked in construction and home remodeling, said he likes the challenge of taking an idea and developing a final product he can hold or see.

"I've always liked working with my hands and building things, that is just the way my brain is wired," Pfingsten said.

Nick Polak, a technology education teacher at Wausau West High School, said students should be impressed by the potential for careers in local metal manufacturing businesses.

"It's not just a dirty, low-skilled job," Polak said. "There is room for advancement and growth."

Source: Wausau Daily Herald

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