New class at Sheehan meant to expand horizons, increase manufacturing workforce in Wallingford

New class at Sheehan meant to expand horizons, increase manufacturing workforce in Wallingford


WALLINGFORD — Sheehan High School started a new course this year to introduce students to the basics of manufacturing.

“Local manufacturing has a need for new employees, so this class came about to start opening people’s eyes to what is available in manufacturing,” said Nick Brown, a technical education teacher at Sheehan.

In conjunction with the new high school course, HUBCAP, a nonprofit organization supported by the Board of Education and Wallingford Center Inc., put together informational sessions and an “evening panel presentation for students and families on manufacturing and opportunities available in Wallingford,” said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.

The course curriculum for “Pre-Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing” was developed with input from local manufacturing companies.

Twelve students are in the course learning lean manufacturing, engineering vocabulary, how to use pulleys and soldering.

“We try to keep it fun, entertaining. We try to do a lot of hands-on activities. You can see how much they (the students) enjoy stuff like that,” Brown said.

The course is currently only open to juniors and seniors at Sheehan High School.

The class teaches students the basic concepts of modern manufacturing and engineering, including workplace safety, quality practices and measurement and lean principles.

Junior Jake Festa said he might consider manufacturing as a career.

“I took this just to see what the possibilities are, where I could go with it,” he said.

Bridget O’Connor, a senior, said she’s considering attending the University of Connecticut to study engineering or something in the medical field. She took the class to help her decide.

“Not every student is going to be a doctor or lawyer or move on to a four-year college. Every student has their own path. And this is a very profitable, fulfilling path,” Economic Development Commission Chairman Joseph Mirra said.

“The next generation of manufacturing employees is a concern,” said Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development specialist. “There’s potentially more manufacturing jobs than there are people to fill them.”

From the economic development standpoint, most people think the No. 1 priority for companies is a low-cost operation, but it’s actually access to workforce, Ryan said.

Holo-Krome, a Wallingford facility that produces fasteners for companies such as Harley-Davidson, is facing the problem head on.

As of August, 2,800 people are unemployed in Wallingford and Meriden, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor. Despite the seemingly large population of unemployed residents in the area, Holo-Krome is still looking for more than a dozen new employees.

Because Holo-Krome is expanding production and a large number of employees are retiring, the company has more positions to fill.

Manufacturing facilities are accommodating growth and fighting the stigma that has surrounded the field in the past.

“There’s a generation that thinks in every manufacturing community you’re going to come out dirty, dingy and smelling like oil. In most cases it’s very clean, in all cases it’s safe,” Ryan said.

Wanda Lary, who works with businesses such as Holo-Krome for Workforce Alliance, advocates for reality-based interviews where applicants can see how the facility looks and what a normal day is like.

“I think that the stereotype of manufacturing is changing, just based on the technology that’s being utilized and the different skill set that’s needed today,” Lary said.

“It’s not your grandfather’s manufacturing job anymore,” Mirra said. “These jobs are high-tech firms with benefits and retirement plans and can be good stepping stones for a career in other fields like sales or finance.”

Holo-Krome is looking for applicants that have some interest in mechanics.

“We’re looking for people we can train. We’re looking to make sure they have some mechanical aptitude,” Holo-Krome Facility Manager David Williams said.

Holo-Krome has also partnered with the Spanish Community of Wallingford to help connect with the large population of Latinos in the area who might be looking for employment.

Part of SCOW’s work is helping clients find jobs. The organization will help with everything from searching for openings to applying and preparing for interviews, Executive Director Maria Campos-Harlow said.

“It’s incredible, there are a number of companies in Wallingford that have the same situation,” she said.

There are a number of networks SCOW uses to help companies try to fill positions, Campos-Harlow said. They often use the radio to get the word out about good jobs available with good work environments and benefits.

After meeting with Holo-Krome staff recently, Campos-Harlow said, “I was very impressed and very motivated to help them fill those positions.”

“If I can help to make those connections that makes me happy to do that,” she added.

“Working in some of these manufacturing facilities, you get to do some really cool stuff. There’s a lot of stuff made in this town that impacts global markets,” Ryan said.

“We find that if people work here for two years, they’ll probably continue to work here for 25 years,” Williams said.

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