SOUTHERN INDIANA — Regional companies want to encourage more people to pursue jobs in manufacturing. This week, about 20 local manufacturers spread that message to local students.

From Tuesday to Thursday, nearly 1,400 students participated in tours of manufacturing facilities in Southern Indiana and Louisville. The three-day event was in recognition of National Manufacturing Day, which took place earlier this month.

Students from Floyd, Clark, Harrison and Scott counties were involved in the tours. On Thursday, a group from Charlestown High School visited Cimtech, a New Albany machine shop with computer-integrated manufacturing technology, and L & D Mail Masters, a commercial printer in New Albany.

Paul Holba, director of talent development at One Southern Indiana, said the manufacturing tours provide students with awareness of local career opportunities and identify potential jobs, whether they are interested in working on the production floor, engineering or quality management.

About 20 percent of the regional payroll stems from manufacturing jobs, according to One Southern Indiana. However, manufacturing jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to fill.

About 3.5 million manufacturing jobs need to be filled nationwide over the next decade, according to a study from Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, However, the study found that a skills gap in the workforce will likely mean that 2 million of those jobs will remain unfilled.

A 2017 Deloitte survey found that while 83 percent of Americans believe manufacturing is important to the U.S. economy, only 33 percent of parents say they would encourage their children to pursue careers in the industry.

Some of the biggest challenges in the manufacturing industry is workforce development and retention, according to Holba. Many companies are getting people to come through the door, he said, but then the employees often don't stay for long.

These local companies are in the students' backyards, he said, and they could even find summer jobs or internships at these facilities if they decide to leave the area for college.

"It kind of keeps them here and helps the community as a whole, because we have this brain drain issue that we're fighting," Holba said.

Even if students leave the area, they could spread the word about these companies to people outside Southern Indiana and attract more potential employees, he said.

Cimtech President Jesika Young said the company has seen about 80 students in tours this week. The company wants to encourage the next generation to pursue these jobs in manufacturing.

"We can show them, and have that sense of pride exude to those students, that this is something that would be a great career for them," she said.

She said she wanted to show the students how the company manufactures a wide variety of products, including component parts used in the food/beverage industry, hospitality, government and medical sectors.

"It does have an end application that is certainly critical to the ways the regional and national economies need to succeed," she said.

Shawn Gram, Cimtech vice president of operations, said he wants students to understand the benefits of working in manufacturing in a place like Cimtech. He started there at the bottom of the totem pole, but he eventually worked his way up in the company.

The industry needs people like the students who showed up for the tour in order to fill manufacturing jobs, Gram said.

"This is our next generation," he said. "We want to make sure kids know that this is a viable option. If they want to go to college and be a doctor or a lawyer, more power to them, but that's not for everybody, and this is a good option and a good career. There's a lot of money that can be made here."

The jobs do not fit many people's perceptions of manufacturing, he said.

"It's not dark, dingy or dirty," Gram said. "It's got new technology, and it's so much cleaner. There's so much opportunity of different avenues you can go."

Ashton Walden, a sophomore at Charlestown High School, participated in tours at Cimtech and L&D Mail Masters on Thursday, and he went to NIBCO, Inc in Charlestown earlier in the week. He came with his business and entrepreneurship class.

He is interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing, so the tours allowed him to explore options for his future, he said.

"There's a lot of opportunities that don't require 10 years of college or anything crazy like that," he said. "They mainly teach you here how to do the job."

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