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Barry County high school students will learn first-hand about manufacturing and health care careers as a Career Exposure tour starts this week.


The Career Exposure Tours are organized by the Barry County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance (EDA) in partnership with West Michigan Works.

With local unemployment rates at historic lows, the demand for talent is increasing, meaning outstanding opportunities for county youth, particularly those graduating in the next few years.

Bringing those opportunities to the forefront is the primary goal of tours this month throughout the county.


 “We routinely hear from local employers – large and small – that workforce is their number-one concern,” Travis Alden, president of the Chamber & EDA, said...

“Getting local students into these companies to see the great career opportunities that exist right in their backyard is a crucial part of addressing Barry County’s current and future workforce needs.”


The first week of October is national Manufacturing Week, with communities across the country celebrating America’s manufacturing strength and highlighting career opportunities in that sector; showing students and educators what manufacturing is like in the 21st century.//


“Most students are completely unaware of the innovative products produced right in their community and sold all over the world,” said Craig Stolsonburg, Business Solutions representative with West Michigan Works.

“It’s incredible to see the lightbulbs go on in their heads, as they tour these amazing facilities only a few miles from home.”


“Exposing students to – and educating them about – what local companies do is just part of the picture,” Alden said. “Showing them the myriad of career opportunities available at these firms, and the paths to get them there, is a key goal of these events.”


“We want local students to explore the numerous career opportunities available under the manufacturing umbrella including production, sales, purchasing, engineering, maintenance, and more,”  Director of Training & Development at FlexFab Andrew Walsh said.


“Our goal is to help students understand that their career path does not need to be linear. The direction of their careers depends on their interests, aptitude and goals.” Area educators echo the importance of that goal and underscore the unique experience this is for their students.

“Students are amazed to find out that there were so many different career opportunities within each business, including accounting, IT, research and development, engineering, CNC, CAD, programming and more,” said Ed Domke, director of Hastings High School’s Career & Technical Education.


“Add in the healthcare sites that we’re visiting this year and it’s an extremely valuable experience for our students.” “Our job is to prepare our students to be college and career ready, and these opportunities help students to learn more about the options that they have and how to prepare for their future,” Thornapple-Kellogg High School Principal Tony Peterson said.  “We are extremely grateful to all of the participating companies for opening up their doors to our students.”


Students from all Barry County schools; Hastings, Thornapple-Kellogg, Maple Valley, Delton-Kellogg and Barry County Christian, will tour 13 sites: Bliss Clearing Niagara, Hastings Manufacturing, Hastings Fiberglass, Tri-Clor, Flexfab, Spectrum Health Pennock and Thornapple Manor in Hastings; Advanced Stone Fabrication, Bradford-White, H&L Manufacturing, ChemQuest, and Middleville Tool & Die in Middleville and TnR Machine in Dowling.


“Manufacturing is the top employment sector in Barry County, at about 33 percent of our local labor force, so naturally we feature manufacturing firms,” Alden said.

Health care is second-highest sector in terms of employment in the county, so they included a couple of those employers, and hope to expand that in the future, he said.

As students learn about opportunities throughout the career areas, emphasis is also on pathways to achieve success in these careers.


“Seeing local folks on the job and asking questions may be the beginning of discovering what students want to do for their career and make a plan,” said Barry Career Access Network Coordinator Margie Haas.

“As they plan for their post-high school education or training, we want them to visualize what they may be doing for a career, ask how people in that profession got started and understand how their classwork and training will apply to success in their career field.”


The tours are geared toward 10th and 11th grade students, but each school selects students who participate, based on the capacity at each company.

The tours in the county began in 2015 with a single company – Flexfab – grew to three in 2016, six in 2017 and 13 this year.


 “That growth speaks to the importance of this experience for our local employers, students and educators,” Alden said... “The best part? We have slots for nearly nine hundred student experiences. “That is almost double last year. We wouldn’t be able to do it without the commitment of our local companies and schools. I sincerely thank them for making this possible.”



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