Manufacturing industry hoping to rebound

There’s a negative perception when it comes to manufacturing.

“Sometimes people think it’s dull, it’s dirty, dungy, dark work,” Fastenal trainer and recruiter Willie Lubahn said. “You know we work in a well-lit shop.”

But Lubahn knows how important manufacturing is for the real world.

“When you get into a manufacturing career like machining, you’re making stuff that matters,” Lubahn said. “You know we make parts for Disney. We make parts that hold wheels on roller coasters.”

But the industry is facing another uphill battle: trying to gain workers.

“And they really don’t know about the opportunities that are available in trades today,” Lubahn said.

But there are some taking advantage of it.

“It’s something fun to do,” Winona High School student Ethan Cummings said. “You know you get to play around with new things and figure out what you want to do with your life.”

Ethan is part of the REACH program, which provides up-and-coming students experience with manufacturing.

He says students take classes and earn college credit through the program.

“I think it’s helped me a lot like getting to know what I’m gonna do,” Cummings said. “And seeing what should I be strong in.”

Even though some are getting experience, it isn’t enough.

Lubahn says when he visits high school industrial tech classes, students only know how welding works.

“I’ll pivot to machining and I’ll say ‘how about manufacturing or machining’ or something like that and then what I end up getting is crickets,” Lubahn said.

All he wants to do is give the people an opportunity.

“The reaction I get when we send people through our shop on a tour is ‘I had no idea it was this clean’ and the other thing is ‘I had no idea that Fastenal did this,'” Lubahn said.

For Ethan, he’s off to a head start.

“I’m hoping right now just to get, try to get more people interested, and maybe join the REACH program,” Cummings said. “And hopefully be working at a manufacturer one day and stay there for the rest of my life.”

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