Manufacturing might be a tiny part of the economy these days but the state of Connecticut is making the case that it’s vital to the future. This has been declared Manufacturing Month, and today hundreds of school kids descended on a new show in Hartford designed to showcase the industry.
Welcome to Manufacturing Mania, the kick off for Connecticut’s month long celebration of the industry that’s defined its past, but struggles these days to stay in the public eye.
"Connecticut has a history of manufacturing, and that’s both a blessing and a burden."
Sue Palisano is the director of training at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. She’s the driving force behind bringing some 200 high school kids and 375 middle schoolers to this show.
“The best way to introduce them to manufacturing is to have them be able to engage with our manufacturers, and hear first-hand from them, and see these incredible things that our manufacturers are making that are part of a jet engine, and that really are the things that make planes fly, and that make helicopters fly. And the kind of manufacturing that we do here in Connecticut, that precision manufacturing – really have them understand what that environment is all about.”
Kids had a chance to meet people working in manufacturing, and also the chance to work in a factory themselves – sort of. They formed work cells and competed against each other to build a model fairground ride made with K’nex toys. Callista Kamau is an eighth grader at Woodstock Middle School – she says she didn’t know much about manufacturing before.
“Well, I knew it was a factory, but other than that, not really. I learned that it’s a lot more important than I initially thought it was. It’s really important to Connecticut and America.”
Fellow middle schooler Hunter Garceau says he enjoyed the building challenge, and his sights are already set on inventing new technologies.
“I actually had started on an idea for a way to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air. I gotten to work on creating ideas for people like we’re doing here to create.”
Teacher Jessica Mulvihill from Woodstock Middle was pleasantly surprised by how relevant the show was for her class.
“The kids are engaged, they’re being challenged to think and in a different way than they are sometimes in school. This year they’re learning physical science and math is always part of the equation too, so I think it does put realistic hands-on touches, and gives them those hands-on experiences to those things they are learning in the classroom.”
Manufacturing certainly suffers from a skills gap in Connecticut with not enough workers able to fill open positions in the sector. But this show was aimed more at the enthusiasm gap, letting kids know that manufacturing is a viable career. Robert Kravontka from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in Connecticut says sometimes just the numbers make sense to kids who might otherwise be headed to college for a liberal arts degree.
“You can get out of that, have a half-a-million dollar bill for school, and get a $35,000 a year job. Or you can spend a couple of years learning about manufacturing, and if you have a good basic math and science skill background, get a $75,000 a year job. That’s pretty cool.”
Manufacturing Mania opens to the public Saturday at the State Armory in Hartford.
For WNPR, I’m Harriet Jones.