Developing an educated and skilled workforce is a challenge for every rural community in Arizona, a tricky balance of providing high school graduates with specialized training and enticing them to stick around for meaningful employment.
Kingman and Mohave Manufacturing Association aims to attract its future workforce by taking more than 100 high school students on tours of a dozen companies at Kingman Airport and Industrial Park as part of Manufacturing Day Thursday.
In just its second year, Manufacturing Day is catching the interest of both high school students and airport employers, said Jeff McKnight, secretary for KAMMA and executive with I-Corp Arizona.
“Last year we kind of stumbled into what we did,” McKnight said. “This year, we doubled our numbers.”
Students are coming from Kingman and Lee Williams high schools, Kingman Academy of Learning and Colorado River Union High School District.
Each tour group will have about 10 students who will spend 45 minutes at participating companies.
“The main concept is to let youths realize that within their community they can find real employment and successful opportunities in manufacturing,” McKnight said.
Students will learn about the manufacturing process at the plant, the supply chain of raw materials that come to the plant, finished products and distribution.
They’ll also be told about characteristics that employers are looking for in their workers, McKnight said. Are they dependable? Do they have a good work ethic? Social skills? What’s their criminal history?
Nearly every company at the airport needs workers with “soft skills,” or lower skills, but the higher-paying jobs require training, McKnight said. I-Corp is looking for machinists, welders and millwrights.
Beth VanHoose, administrative assistant for Career and Technical Education at Kingman Unified School District, said 41 students went on the inaugural tour last year and were impressed with what they saw.
“Students learned that working in a manufacturing environment doesn’t necessarily mean that you work on a production line all day, that there are a variety of positions from office work to skilled labor and beyond,” VanHoose said.
“With many of them, a light bulb went on in their heads when they saw real world applications for the skills they are learning in school, not just the technical skills, but also things like math and science.”
Manufacturing presents significant potential for high-wage employment growth, and plays a key role in Arizona’s current and future economic prosperity, Gov. Doug Ducey said in proclaiming October as Arizona Manufacturers Month.
Kingman Mayor Monica Gates drafted a resolution recognizing KAMMA’s involvement in Manufacturing Day.
Donna Davis of Expect More Arizona, a movement for world-class education, said earning a high school diploma isn’t enough for kids entering the workforce today, though they don’t need a four-year college education, either. But technical certification helps.
Education metrics show that only 42 percent of Arizona’s workforce from ages 25 to 64 have a two- or four-year degree or some type of industry certification, when that number needs to be 68 percent.
“The lack of education is an economic development issue for the state,” Davis said.
Manufacturing Day and the KAMMA tours are helpful in exposing students to potential careers and showing them what kind of training is needed for various jobs, and what’s offered by local employers.
“It can show students in the area there are quality jobs available,” Davis said, “but most are going to require something beyond high school, some kind of machinery certification or welding certification or OSHA certification, whatever.”
Davis was quite impressed with the number of companies participating in the KAMMA tour. Only three companies in the Phoenix area offered tours, she said.
“Kingman is the second-biggest manufacturing area in the state, outside of Maricopa County,” Davis noted. “We don’t have that much manufacturing in Arizona, although we’d like to grow that.”
Construction of the Rancho Santa Fe Parkway interchange off Interstate 40 could boost that effort.
“Kingman will become a manufacturing hub if that is what we desire it to become,” KAMMA President John Hansen said in a letter supporting the interchange. “We must look at developing that capacity as an investment.”
This article was originally published by the Kingman Daily Miner on October 25, 2o17, by Hubble Ray Smith.