Red Raider Manufacturing Fills in the Skills Gap

October 6, 2021

October is National Manufacturing Month, a monthlong celebration of Wisconsin's top industry as well as a way to promote manufacturing as a viable career choice. 

It’s no secret that for many years, employers in the manufacturing industry have faced challenges filling open positions with qualified candidates. As part of its commitment to creating flexible options and college and career pathways for all learners, the Sheboygan Area School District (SASD) established Red Raider Manufacturing, a program that strives to help fill that gap while creating lasting partnerships with local industry and community leaders.

Since the 2016-2017 school year, students at Sheboygan North High School and Sheboygan South High School have benefited from a collaboration between SASD staff, local manufacturing experts, and Lakeshore Technical College (LTC). This innovative program incorporates fundamental principles of manufacturing, allowing these students to graduate with essential skills needed by today’s manufacturing employers.

The primary aim of Red Raider Manufacturing is to provide both classroom instruction and authentic, hands-on learning opportunities that result in real-world employability. Two state-of-the-art labs, the Kohler | Johnsonville Advanced Technology Centers at each high school, offer high-tech manufacturing and engineering tools and technology aligned with those at LTC, giving practical exposure to CNC, automation, and metrology equipment. The expansion, upgrade, and renovation of existing facilities was made possible through the district’s investment and ongoing financial commitment as well as significant contributions from local businesses, organizations, and sponsors.

Students who participate in the Red Raider Manufacturing program graduate better prepared for future schooling and careers in the manufacturing and engineering industries, including automotive and robotics. They gain a stronger understanding of industrial safety, blueprint and process document reading, measuring for precision and data analysis, quality control and statistics, trade and industry mathematics, problem-solving and troubleshooting, automation, and working in a team environment. In addition, more students graduate from high school with certifications and/or advanced standing credit to area technical colleges.

What does this mean for local industry? Having a larger pool of skilled candidates better prepared for entering the workforce reduces initial training costs and increases productivity for years to come. New employees have a clear idea of what to expect from a position in the manufacturing field and have already developed important workplace skills such as communication and problem-solving.

Jason Duff, the district’s Academic & Career Planning Coordinator, meets monthly with an oversight committee of business and education stakeholders to discuss ongoing efforts to enhance curriculum and align with middle school programs, as well as to measure progress toward the program’s goals. A rebranding campaign has prominently positioned Red Raider Manufacturing to increase awareness and educate families, community members, and local businesses about the program.

"We are very focused on changing previously held perceptions of manufacturing careers that simply aren't accurate anymore,” said Duff. “We're fortunate to be located in one of the greatest hubs for modern manufacturing in the midwest. We need to make sure our future graduates and families are aware of and prepared for the many career opportunities in the Sheboygan area.”

Red Raider Manufacturing, as well as numerous other career and college preparation programs, offers students of the Sheboygan Area School District a pathway to a career to aspire to, rather than settle for, in a robust and thriving industry.

For more information, visit Red Raider Manufacturing at https://www.sheboygan.k12.wi.us/programs/red-raider-manufacturing or contact Jason Duff, Academic & Career Planning Coordinator, at jduff@sasd.net.

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