West Noble seniors explore manufacturing world

Article by Emeline Rodenas at KPC Media

LIGONIER — One hundred West Noble seniors had the opportunity to visit local manufacturers and live a day in the life at local factories during the annual West Noble High School Industry Tour Wednesday.

Rachel Stephens, marketing coordinator of the Noble County Economic Development Corporation, helped plan the tour this year. She, along with with West Noble’s new Assistant Principal Chad Wilson worked together to plan the tour.

“This is actually the first year I’ve been helping coordinate. This will be the fourth year that the tour has been going on. The reason the tour started was we have a gap in our manufacturing jobs. We have more jobs than we do people to fill those jobs so the EDC partners with West Noble and local manufacturer to bridge that gap and create a pipeline between workers, future workers and employers,” Stephens said.

“This really is a culmination of a big day at the high school. The SAT is given at the high school. The PSAT is taken at the high school. Freshmen go on a trip, so they go to IMPACT to see what they have to offer. They get to see that world. We take the group of seniors who are not testing, those who have already tested or are not pursing higher education,” Wilson said.

The goal of the tour is for students to hopefully “see what they like and maybe consider a manufacturing career in Noble County,” according to Stephens.

“They’re kind of getting to that point, starting to think what they’re going to do after high school. Maybe they’ll chose manufacturing as summer job, but some might decide to start their careers right away,” Stephens said.

For many who do pursue a trade or vocation, that decision can pay out, with the high demand for electricians, plumbers and welders in northeast Indiana. While this is the fourth consecutive year the tour has happened, the EDC is working on tracking data such as the number of students who chose to enter a manufacturing field as well as those who didn’t.

“That’s something we’ll consider starting to track,” Stephens said. With Noble County and the surrounding DeKalb, Steuben and LaGrange counties already struggling to staff factories, the tour is not only relevant, but timely.

The students, who will be split into four groups of 25, will each visit four sites.

“I’ve been working with Noble County EDC and I’m learning a lot. They basically set up the tour, which is really nice. They’re experts, they know who’s hiring, who’s interested in having high school kids come through the building. I sent out a survey to students and asked which companies they’d be interested in looking at, tried to place them in the area they were most interested in,” Wilson said.

The school currently has approximately 20 students that are involved in welding of some sort, as well as 15-20 others who participate in the cosmetology, auto or other IMPACT vocational programs.

According to Wilson, the schools survey students on the way out.

“Out of the graduating class last year of 151, 56 said they’re probably going directly into the work force. That’s a third of our kids. We would love to keep them in Noble county, so why not expose them to those businesses right now?” Wilson said.

He estimates there are still kids who would like to attend that are unable due to other testing going on.

“We probably have kids who want to go that aren’t going. Some of that is the high school diplomas and the pathways are just coming out. Hopefully, the pathways will open that up for us and give us more opportunities,” Wilson said.

The manufacturers offer more than just manual labor employment.

“There are engineering jobs, other machinist jobs that take higher education, more than just a high school diploma. I’d love for them to come back to Ligonier, Noble County and invest in this community,” Wilson said.

Many manufacturers participate every year for that very reason.

“Lots of folks reach out to us before we even started scheduling the tour. While it’s useful to the manufacturers, it’s not just something they’re doing. They’re genuinely interested. Other times, we reach out to them. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the past years,” Stephens said.

Her favorite part so far has been “seeing the relationships formed between the school and manufacturers.” She especially credits Wilson for his assistance.

“It’s been good making relationships with him. Being able to tie together the school to local industry and see where we fit in to all of that. It’s been really eye-opening for me to see where the EDC fits into the puzzle,” Stephens said.

Each year’s tour is interactive and students must complete activities. Stephens remembered last year’s activity, which had a Mythbusters theme.

“Hopefully after the tour, some will consider at least taking a part-time job or alternate career,” Stephens said. “We have had interest from Central Noble, but we haven’t scheduled (a tour) yet. I don’t know where that’s gonna go, but maybe in the future.”