CLEVELAND—Charles Braun, Custom Rubber Corp. president, is planning for the future, not just for his own company, but for the larger manufacturing industry.
Braun has taken the first steps toward getting a new generation of young people involved in manufacturing by partnering with a local high school, he said during a recent tour the company hosted for members of the Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers.
When one of his children was looking through course selections for high school, Braun realized that Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland didn't offer any kind of shop class, he said.
"They're part of a consortium of other local high schools that don't have any vocational training," he said. "They offer this list of courses which include graphic imaging technology, administrative office technology, financial management, cosmetology, pharmacist technician—all great careers. But none of them are related to manufacturing."
Braun was discouraged, but during a tour of another facility, he got his inspiration by way of Cardinal Manufacturing, a student-run machine shop built into a shop class in the Eleva-Strum school district in Strum, Wis. Cardinal, started by instructor Craig Cegielski, takes orders from outside customers in the region, giving students a more hands-on experience and skill-building in manufacturing.
A customer supplies a model or a part to Cardinal, where Cegielski responds with a quote, and a purchase order is sent. The business itself is completely student-run, Braun said.
"They're teaching kids shop by giving them orders from industry, which is way more effective ultimately than your teacher saying, 'Today we're going to make candlestick holders.' "
With a live order in hand, a student learns the machine and how to manage an order to hit a deadline, Braun said.
Cegielski challenged tour attendees with five questions about connecting a manufacturing company with local schools to develop student interest. His quiz asked: Have you visited your school superintendent in the past year? Has the high school principal toured your business? Are you on a first-name basis with the tech-ed teacher? Has an employee presented in a classroom within the last year? Has your company donated equipment, supplies or money for vocational training?
"My answer to all five questions was no. I hadn't done any of those things," Braun said.
He reached out to Jonathan Kuehnle, Shaker Heights High School principal, to pitch his idea for a similar program in Cleveland. Raider Manufacturing, named after the high school's mascot of the Raiders, will bring students up close to working with an industry customer to create a product.
"My long-term objective is to create Raider Manufacturing, a student-run manufacturing company," Braun said.
The project is still in its infancy, but it began to take forward steps over the summer. The realization of the project is probably still a decade away, but creating immediate new employees isn't the point, he said.
"You can't go into these things thinking, 'I'm going to get an employee out of this.' That's the wrong thing," Braun said. "Even if you send one more kid through the training, that's one more person in the pool. And maybe he doesn't work for you. But the job he takes, the guy that was going to take that job, that guy will work for you.
"You have to think about the global pool. If you're lucky, you'll get one or two, but that's not the short-term goal."
In the interim, Braun is pushing to add curriculum that bring in elements of design and engineering, he said. Within the last year, Custom also has started plans to host plant tours for high school students. He's worked with other local business owners to establish regular tours across the industry, and is coordinating with Shaker Heights to expand the project in upcoming years.
"We have to get these kids out of the classroom and show them how cool manufacturing is," he said. "That's the first step. It doesn't cost any money, and you can do it tomorrow."
Braun has challenged his team to come up with projects for students to problem-solve like a typical manufacturing issue. The goal is to give the students a project, have them go back to their class and design a prototype, then present it before building more to finish an order.
He also encouraged others to talk to the local school districts, especially the high school, to find ways to connect the manufacturing industry to education.
"Reach out to your local high school. They're really nice people," Braun said. "They really want to do the right thing, but they just need some input."