Back to the May-Jun 2022 issue

City Partnership Shines a Light on Manufacturing Careers

By Karen Hallquist and Carol Lagergren

The City of Norwood Young America forged a partnership with Central Public Schools and local businesses last year to show high school students a career path they may not have considered.

The partnership resulted in NYA Manufacturing Today, an event that introduced students to several local companies. During this one-day event last October, nearly 70 students from the local high school had the opportunity to take tours of several of the city’s manufacturing businesses and interact with their employees.

The students also got to ask their burning questions, like:

  • What’s the starting wage?
  • How much additional schooling does this job require?
  • What do you actually do? What is your niche?

Recognizing the need

Norwood Young America — a semi-rural town located in Carver County 30 miles west of Minneapolis — is home to about 3,900 residents, with significant population growth expected to continue for years to come. The community has 15 manufacturing businesses.

With the Highway 212 four-lane expansion due to be completed in 2024, as well as a new industrial park, the city recognized the need to support its current manufacturing companies. In addition, due to the pandemic and the recent labor shortage, many of these businesses are struggling to find and retain quality employees.

Laying the groundwork

Central Public Schools has approximately 1,000 students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Although their High School Vocational Arts program is strong, many students didn’t recognize work in the manufacturing industry as a viable option after graduation.

Students hear a presentation on the use of robotics in cheese production from a Bongards Creamery employee. (Photo courtesy City of Norwood Young America)

So, the school and several local manufacturers formed the Manufacturing & Trades Advisory Board last year. The city’s community development director also sits on the board, which was created to educate students about the potential job opportunities available in the trades — specifically in Norwood Young America. Their goal focuses on real-world, authentic learning — educating students through field trips and potential internships.

The Norwood Young America Economic Development Commission (EDC) is an advisory board that provides recommendations to the City Council on matters related to commercial and industrial development in the city. In the past, the EDC has organized a yearly spotlight on local manufacturers during Minnesota Manufacturing Week.

Last October, the EDC and the Manufacturing & Trades Advisory Board decided to take it a step further and put on NYA Manufacturing Today for the city’s high school students. This event allowed businesses the opportunity to share information about their industry, facilities, machinery, and job opportunities to an audience of potential young employees.

Going on tour

The day started with high school students going on a tour of five manufacturing sites. Each site highlighted a slightly different type of manufacturing trade:

  • Sackett Waconia designs, engineers, and builds equipment for multiple areas of the fertilizer industry.
  • Yeager Machines specializes in a precise form of milling and turning.
  • Modern Design Cabinetry is one of the largest custom cabinetry shops in Minnesota.
  • Storms Welding & Manufacturing is a leading manufacturer of dairy equipment.
  • Bongards Creamery is a farmer-owned cooperative that specializes in premium cheeses.

Each tour lasted about an hour, with time set aside by presenters and tour guides for introductions and questions. Students were pleasantly surprised to learn that:

Starting wages are 30% above minimum wage.

Many jobs are available upon graduation from high school.

Several of the businesses work with their employees to provide additional educational opportunities if desired.

In a survey completed after the tours, approximately 75% of the students stated that they would consider a job or career in manufacturing in the future.

“Giving students exposure to potential job opportunities and careers close to home is one way the school and city can partner together,” says Tim Schochenmaier, Central Public Schools superintendent.

Creating future opportunities

Central Schools continues to work with the Manufacturing & Trades Advisory Board to create an internship program for students. Their next goal is to partner with community experts in the field, so students can apply skills they are learning in school, like welding, small engine repair, and woodworking.

The community leaders believe by continuing to work together, everyone wins — the students and schools, local manufacturers, and the community of Norwood Young America — and they look forward to having another successful NYA Manufacturing Today event this October.

Karen Hallquist is community development director and Carol Lagergren is mayor of Norwood Young America.