Career Exposure Tours Kick Off In Barry County

With local unemployment rates at historical lows, the demand for talent is increasing. This means outstanding opportunities for Barry County youth, particularly those graduating High School in the next few years.

Bringing those opportunities to the forefront is the primary goal of the upcoming career exposure tours happening this month throughout Barry County, organized by the Barry County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Alliance.

“We routinely hear from local employers – large and small – that workforce is their number-one concern,” says Travis Alden, President of the Chamber & EDA. “Getting local students into these companies to see the great career opportunities that exist right in their backyard is a crucial part of addressing Barry County’s current and future workforce needs.”

The first week of October is branded nationally as ‘Manufacturing Week’, with communities across the country hosting events to celebrate America’s manufacturing strength and highlight career opportunities in that sector. In Barry County, local organizers utilize the whole month to bring in students and educators to show them what manufacturing is like in the 21st century.

“Most students are completely unaware of the innovative products produced right in their community and sold all over the world,” says Craig Stolsonburg, Business Solutions Representative with West Michigan Works, which partners on the tours. “It’s incredible to see the lightbulbs go on in their heads, as they tour these amazing facilities only a few miles from home.”

“Exposing students to – and educating them about – what local companies do is just part of the picture,” notes Alden. “Showing them the myriad of career opportunities available at these firms and the paths to get them there is a key goal of these events.”

“We want local students to explore the numerous career opportunities available under the manufacturing umbrella including production, sales, purchasing, engineering, maintenance, and more,” says Andrew Walsh, Director of Training & Development at FlexFab in Hastings. “Our goal is to help students understand that their career path does not need to be linear. The direction of their careers depends on their interests, aptitude and goals.”

Area educators echo the importance of that goal and underscore the unique experience that this is for their students.

“Students are amazed to find out that there were so many different career opportunities within each business, including accounting, IT, research and development, engineering, CNC, CAD, programming and more,” says Ed Domke, Career & Technical Education Director at Hastings High School. “Add in the healthcare sites that we’re visiting this year and it’s an extremely valuable experience for our students.”

A total of thirteen sites are hosting career exposure tours for students from all five Barry County high schools: Hastings, Thornapple-Kellogg, Maple Valley, Delton-Kellogg and Barry County Christian.

“Our job is to prepare our students to be college and career ready, and these opportunities help students to learn more about the options that they have and how to prepare for their future,” says Tony Petersen, Principal at Thornapple-Kellogg High School. “We are extremely grateful to all of the participating companies for opening up their doors to our students.”

Sites hosting tours are Bliss Clearing Niagara, Hastings Manufacturing, Hastings Fiberglass. Tri-Clor, Flexfab, Spectrum Health Pennock and Thornapple Manor in Hastings; Advanced Stone Fabrication, Bradford-White, H&L Manufacturing, ChemQuest, and Middleville Tool & Die in Middleville; and TnR Machine in Dowling.

“Manufacturing is the top employment sector in Barry County, at about thirty-three percent of our local labor force, so naturally we feature manufacturing firms,” explains Alden. “But healthcare is our second-highest sector in terms of employment, so we wanted to leverage the Manufacturing Week activities and include a couple of those employers as well. Hopefully, we can expand that in the future as well.”

As students learn about opportunities throughout these career areas, the emphasis is also made on the pathways to achieve success in these careers.

“Seeing local folks on the job and asking questions may be the beginning of discovering find what students want to do for their career and make a plan,” explains Margie Haas, Coordinator of the Barry Career Access Network. “As they plan for their post-high school education or training, we want them to visualize what they may be doing for a career, ask how people in that profession got started and understand how their classwork & training will apply to success in their career field.”

The career exposure tours are geared toward 10th and 11th graders but each school selects the students who participate, based on capacity at each company. These tours in Barry County began in 2015 with a single company – Flexfab in Hastings – and grew to three in 2016, six in 2017 and now thirteen this year.

“That growth speaks to the importance of this experience for our local employers, students and educators,” says Alden. “The best part? We have slots for nearly nine hundred student experiences. That is almost double last year. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the commitment of our local companies and schools. I sincerely thank them for making this possible.”

Barry County Career Exposure Tours are organized by the Barry County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Alliance in partnership with West Michigan Works.