EFFINGHAM — Today’s high school graduates have opportunities for manufacturing jobs, and tours on Thursday brought the students up close to jobs in their neighborhood.
During the annual Effingham County Manufacturing Day, area high school students took a look at how assembly, technology, automation, welding and other trades can land a recent graduate a job right here close to home.
Twelve local manufacturers hosted student tours along with their adult chaperones to places such as Sherwin Williams, Versatech, Stevens Industries, The New York Blower Co., Siemer Milling, Quad Graphics, John Boos & Co., Three Z Printing, Waupaca Foundry, Kingery Printing, Mette’s Cabinet Corner and Pyramid Marble.
Brian Colwell, area director of distribution at Sherwin Williams, said that the company has been offering employment to the area for 33 years in its distribution center.
“We ship over a billion pounds of freight – that’s billion with a ‘b’ – every year out of this facility. That’s a huge amount of product,” said Colwell.
The facility has been open since 1986. It was an old Fedders warehouse previously. Some employees have been on the job since day one, Colwell said. Over time, automation and robots have helped with moving some of the heavier products that once was all done by strictly manual labor.
He said the complex provides jobs for about 572 full-time team members, which includes office, truck drivers and warehouse workers. There are several buildings within the complex, which encompasses 1.2 million square feet under roof.
“This is the largest distribution center that Sherwin Williams has anywhere,” said Colwell. “Effingham may not be a huge town, but we do have a pretty big operation that serves all of the Midwest stores.”
Travis Goeckner, a trainer and warehouse technician at Sherwin Williams, handled one tour and showed the students how “the pickers” collect the product orders, wrap the skid of product and stage it for distribution, before it gets shipped out.
Kim Jones, robotics manager at Sherwin Williams, told the students that robots keep people safe on the job.
“The pail robot takes about 160,000 pounds per shift,” said Jones. “These buckets weigh anywhere between 50 and 70 pounds. When we use automation, we save the human from getting hurt, because lifting this much weight everyday and putting it on a pallet can be very difficult.”
Jones said that the technology was installed in 2006 and it is the “fun side” of the job. It is considered an old robot, but there are plans to bring new technology into the plant in the future.
Joseph Durbin, a junior at St. Elmo High School, has an interest in mechanics and inquired during the tour at Sherwin Williams about that kind of work.
“I like mechanics,” said Durbin. “I was planning on going into the military in mechanics. But, minds change, so who knows.”
Durbin said “the mechanics of the robots were kind of neat.”
Robin Elam, a guidance counselor at Altamont High School, said Manufacturing Day is valuable for students because it is an experience they can’t get on a normal day.
“I feel that everywhere I’ve been on these tours, safety has been their biggest priority, not just for their employees but for all of us coming through, too.”
Elam said the students typically say walking into these manufacturing sites is an eye-opener and not what they were expecting. She said students are surprised to learn the number of job opportunities in manufacturing are greater than they expected and the conditions are cleaner and with more computers and technology.
At the New York Blower Company, the tour involved a lot of welding and machinist work. Trades learned here can be transferred to other job sites, said Glen Todd, director of human resources.
“Once you get a job, be there on time, be there every day, and do your darndest and work your hardest,” said Todd.
Todd said NYB has been in Effingham since 2002. It has about 100 employees in Effingham. Corporate-wide there are 450 employees. The company has existed for 130 years. NYB offers assembly work, welding and machine operating positions.
James Smith, human resource manager at NYB, encouraged students with an interest in welding to learn on the job at his company, after starting out somewhere else in the plant.
“Basically, you get on the job and someone shows you the basics and you start practicing until you get good at it,” said Smith.
Ben Ruholl, laser operator, demonstrated how the equipment cuts out parts for fans out of large sheets of steel. He said he runs up to 60 sheets a day.
Ryan Repking teaches small engine automotive and history classes at Dieterich High School. He worked at an auto dealership in autobody and paint and said from that experience he saw how difficult it was to find employees.
“We want to see some kids get interested in auto technology industry,” said Repking. “We started this course because Effingham County is dying for people to go into automotive industry. Some kids don’t want to go to a four-year university. We want to give them an opportunity to experience things like this.”
Ivan Angel, a senior at Effingham High School, called the Manufacturing Day opportunity a good one.
“I just wanted to see what job opportunities there are,” said Angel. “I am interested in welding.”
Nearly 300 students, teachers and counselors from 15 area schools participated in the event, along with volunteers from the business community and Lake Land College. Participating schools were Altamont High School, Aspire Alternative School, Beecher City High School, Brownstown High School, Cumberland High School, Dieterich High School, Effingham High School, New Approach Alternative School, North Clay High School, Pathways Alternative School, Saint Anthony High School, St. Elmo High School, Stewardson-Strasburg High School, Teutopolis High School and Windsor High School. The event was hosted by the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.