Transformed – A Manufacturing Day connection from Elkhart County to Colorado

Mario Garcia (right, sitting) signs his letter of intent to become a youth apprentice at Robert Weed Corporation in Elkhart in 2019.
Photo Credit: Brian Wiebe
HEA CEO Brian Wiebe (right) takes a selfie in Vail, Colo., with the HEA Student Pathways team (first row, from left) Sarah Koontz, Breanna Allen, and Kevin Kirkland, and (second row, from left) Shawn Gingerich and Tyler Garber of Viewrail, a Goshen, Ind.,-based company.

You never know where your next step will take you.

I was walking through a hotel lobby in Vail, Colo., in late October and I thought my next step would take me closer to the conference I was attending on youth apprenticeships. Where that step actually took me was to a stunning new staircase that was just being installed in that lobby, and to – surprise of surprises – two friends from Goshen: Shawn Gingerich and Tyler Garber! They work for Viewrail, and were busily installing the staircase.

We laughed and chatted, and they explained the project and how they came to install a Goshen staircase in faraway Vail.

“Synchronicity” describes the circumstance in which events co-occur and seem quite related – but have no causal connection. Just the week before this chance meeting, Viewrail had hosted about 100 eighth-graders from Concord Junior High as part of the local Manufacturing Day activities that HEA sponsors each year. Now our HEA Student Pathways team (Breanna Allen, Sarah Koontz, Kevin Kirkland, and I) had travelled 1,200 miles to participate in a national youth apprenticeship program – and we ran into Shawn and Tyler.

Manufacturing Day, as it turns out, has been incredibly successful. Each fall, nearly 3,000 eighth-graders visit manufacturing facilities all around the county, and learn about all the different kinds of work that are possible, from the shop floor to the executive offices. Our team works with the schools as well as the manufacturers themselves to coordinate visits and ensure that lesson plans and activities are as educational, interactive, and engaging as possible. We survey the students afterward, and they show knowledge and interest in manufacturing-related career pathways. A typical comment: “I didn’t know anything about welding, I could see myself doing that.”

So our Vail moment was a chance encounter. Still, the moral I see in this story is that Elkhart County’s unique impact is national – global, really – but that impact depends on having a top-notch manufacturing sector. And that manufacturing sector depends on having a top-notch workforce. And that workforce depends on the kind of adults those eighth-graders grow up to become. And their participation in Manufacturing Day increases the likelihood that two of them may one day be installing stunning staircases in a hotel lobby somewhere amazing. I hope I run into them!

HEA is committed to the task of supporting that global impact, by supporting the manufacturing sector, the workforce, and the young people necessary for success. HEA is especially committed to preparing our citizens for the life ahead, and preparing them through the whole lifespan, from the pre-kindergarten toddler to the mature second-career adult. Our many programs support people so that when they have the opportunity on the staircase of meaningful work, they are ready. 

We want the step they take on that staircase to be a step up.

By Brian Wiebe
President/CEO of HEA

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