Getting young people interested in careers in manufacturing has been a long-standing challenge for industrial companies throughout the state. Companies know that convincing members of Generation Y of the value of careers in manufacturing will go a long way toward alleviating the skills gap that continues to plague the sector.

A session at the Manufacturing Matters! Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Milwaukee on Feb. 28 will include first-hand accounts from current high school students who are participating in youth apprenticeship programs, as well as young adults who already have embarked on manufacturing careers.

“Employers in dire need of workers have overlooked youth apprenticeships as a means of meeting their needs,” said Joe Brown, senior manufacturing specialist for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is putting on the conference.

Robin Kroyer-Kubicek, an educator who works with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to revise and update youth apprenticeship programs, said employers need to overcome any trepidation about working with teenagers in order to experience the long-term benefits that can come with exposing students to careers in manufacturing.

“Once the employers see these great kids, they are excited about working with them,” Kroyer-Kubicek said.

These programs can be a successful way of building a future employment base, she said.

John Brebeck, a senior at Watertown High School, said youth apprenticeship programs are valuable for employers as well as students.

Brebeck is among the panelists for the Manufacturing Matters! session.

Choosing a career in manufacturing still tends to be the exception, not the norm, for young people, Brown said. Manufacturers have been fighting to overcome outdated perceptions about manufacturing work.

Spreading the word to employers about apprenticeships is key.

“If we let them know that other companies in the state are doing it, they may be more likely to engage,” Kroyer-Kubicek said.

It’s important to inform employers about the benefits of the apprenticeship programs, said Jesse Domer, Watertown HS Technology Education Instructor.

“It comes down to a local effort of showing companies that they are investing in a good thing and not just throwing their money away,” Domer said.

Manufacturers need to put time and effort into such programs in order to experience success, Kroyer-Kubicek said.

“One of the things we are pushing is to get manufacturers involved earlier, not just at the middle school and high school level, but at the elementary school level,” she said. “Get kids interested in how things are made and that there is a viable career in it.”

Generating interest among students can come from something as simple as planning a field trip to a local factory, according to educators.

Zach Timm, a senior at Watertown High School, currently is participating in a youth apprenticeship at Spuncast Inc. Timm also participates in a partnership that involves students, businesses and the area chamber of commerce. The experience has allowed him to gain meaningful connections with business leaders in the community.

“I can walk into most of these companies and they know who I am,” Timm said.