Danesha Hooker, a sophomore at South Lenoir High School, dismounted from the motor grader with a new appreciation for the kind of work the big yellow machine represented.
“I never thought about it before, but I understand it better now, ” she said after spending a few minutes working the array of control levers.
The observance in Kinston of National Manufacturing Day on Thursday was equal parts exposure and education for some 750 high school and middle schools students from LCPS and four other public school districts in the region.
Tours of manufacturing plants were topped off by an expansive expo that brought exhibitors like the N.C. Department of Transportation and its big equipment to the N.C. Global TransPark – and put Danesha in the driver’s seat.
“I didn’t want to do it at first, but my teacher convinced me,” she said. “It was fun. I liked it.”
There was probably something for all the students to like. West Pharmaceutical, Domestic Fabric and Blanket, Barnet, Field Controls, Eaton and Moen were among the Lenoir County industries on the tour schedule. In all 15 manufacturers in three counties hosted students.
More than 60 exhibitors set up at the GTP, where the emphasis on variety showed front to back, from the DOT’s display of big equipment in the Jetport terminal’s parking lot to the N.C Forest Service’s firefighting airplanes on the tarmac to displays in the terminal building that featured everything from robotics to machining to alternative energy.
“Each and everything has something different to offer, from Masterbrand Cabinets to Smithfield Foods to our industries that are using robotics, said Mark Pope, Lenoir County’s economic developer, whose office coordinated the event. “We want these students to be able to see how the manufacturing industry has changed from the old industry to the new technology.”
The students already have an eye on a career, even if it’s just a curious eye. All are involved in their public school system’s Career and Technical Education program, its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program or in its Workforce Investment Opportunity Act program.
“We’re showing our kids the availability of jobs in manufacturing, aviation, STEM-related activities, robotics, all those things not only in Lenoir County but in all of eastern North Carolina, showing them they can stay in eastern North Carolina,” Pope said.
“I think students will see some places they did not realize were available in their own community,” said Jessica Shimer, who coordinates the CTE program for LCPS.
She expected they would also better see the relationship between what they’re being taught and what they need to know to land a job, especially since they’re heard about that relationship from the people who do the hiring.
“It’s wonderful for them to be in a manufacturing setting and hear that, yes, we give priority in employing people who have good scores from the WorkKeys tests,” Shimer said.
WorkKeys is an assessment given to all CTE “concentrators” – LCPS students who’ve followed the full CTE program – that tests three skills valuable in the workplace: reading for information, locating information and using applied mathematics. Successful students earn a Career Readiness Certificate from the state that sets them apart from job applicants who are not certified.
“These students need to know that a CRC is valuable,” Shimer said, “that it’s used in the workplace.”
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