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Manufacturing a Connection: OTC ‘speed-dating’ event brings manufacturers, students together

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Eschewing the old-fashioned career fair, Ozarks Technical Community College relied on the speed-dating concept to connect manufacturing companies and students.

An Oct. 4 event on the OTC campus brought together more than 20 Springfield-area companies and nearly 170 students. Company representatives set up at tables inside Lincoln Hall to visit with students, ages 16-60, in morning and afternoon sessions.

“They get to really visit close to one-on-one,” said Danelle Maxwell, manufacturing department chair and agriculture instructor at OTC.

Groups of two to seven students traveled around to the different company tables in 15-minute increments, as a timer on a giant screen counted down each session.

The students learned about the companies, as well as potential job opportunities. It marked the second time OTC utilized a speed-dating format as an alternative to job fairs.

“Our goal was to get as much exposure to our students with the manufacturing world as possible,” Maxwell said.

“We wanted more than just a career fair, as students tend to walk past all the booths.”

The event brought in 23 companies, four more than last year, according to OTC officials. Paul Mueller Co., Cintas Corp., Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and Olsson Associates Inc. were among participants this year.

Jeff Brunson, director of engineering with Stainless Fabrication Inc., said the steel manufacturer has attended both of OTC’s speed-dating-style hiring events.

“We saw the need for getting more creative about finding employees and having to start getting in front of them at a younger age,” he said.

Maxwell estimated between five and 10 students were hired after last year’s event – evidence that connections are being made.

“They don’t realize how many opportunities there are in manufacturing in Springfield,” she said.

OTC’s event took place in conjunction with National Manufacturing Day, held annually since 2012 on the first Friday in October. College officials say they recognize it a day early to allow greater participation from companies, as many host facility tours with students and community members on National Manufacturing Day.

One of those companies, railroad signal equipment manufacturer L&W Industries LLC, also was represented at the OTC event. Scott Schneider, L&W’s engineering manager, said the speed-dating event is a creative and in-depth chance to connect with students forging a path in the working world – and especially helpful in the current robust job market.

“Anything you can do to attract employees is a benefit,” Schneider said, noting the company is in hiring mode after a short down period this summer. “Any way we as an industry, as manufacturers, can connect with young people and get them interested in trades, it’s very important.”

Anne Carroll attended the event in the midst of her career change.

She was out of school for 20 years and working in data entry but took a drafting class last year at OTC and got hooked. Carroll ended up leaving her data entry job and entering the manufacturing industry in March.

She attends OTC part-time while working full-time as a drafter for Marshfield-based Architectural Components Group Inc. Pursuing a degree in drafting and design, Carroll expects to graduate in May 2019.

The recent event showed her the variety of manufacturing companies as she continues work in the field she’s studying.

“It shows you all the different job opportunities in the area that could be a possibility,” she said.

“Some of them will give you an idea of what the starting pay is, what kind of benefits you can expect.”

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for drafting and design technology jobs is $40,770 in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area.

On the hunt
While companies were hoping to make a connection with OTC students through “speed dating,” another 20 employers were on the hunt for hires later that day at a manufacturing hiring event at the former Springfield Mill & Lumber store, a block west of City Hall.

Katherine Trombetta, a business services specialist with the Missouri Job Center, said nearly 100 job seekers attended the event with numerous on-site interviews taking place.

According to Missouri Economic Research and Information Center data in the Ozark region, which includes Springfield, average annual wages for all manufacturing jobs was $45,782 in 2016, the most recent year reported.

Statewide, manufacturing was the third-largest employment sector with 265,900 workers in 2017, according to MERIC. But it’s the largest in terms of gross state product, with manufacturers contributing $34.7 billion, or 13.2 percent, of the state’s total. Real estate, rental and leasing is Missouri’s next largest industry, with $30.7 billion in gross state product, an 11.7 percent share.

Missouri Association of Manufacturers Board of Directors Chairman Brian Barton said the state’s low unemployment rate, at 3.3 percent in August, has created a challenge in finding quality workers.

“There’s more demand than there is people looking for quality job opportunities,” he said.

MAM, founded in 1993, represents the economic, educational, political and social interests of Missouri manufacturers and their employees, according to its website. Barton, who heads up operations at MC Power Systems Inc. in Lee’s Summit, said MAM currently has over 200 members, an increase from 180 in 2014, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.

“The manufacturing sector is talking about only increasing in this state, so we’re very fortunate in that area,” he said.

For manufacturing veterans, the current environment presents unique challenges.

“Twenty years ago when you needed somebody, you hung a sign in your front door and waited for people to come in,” said Stainless Fabrication’s Brunson. “It doesn’t happen that way anymore. You actually have to go out and sell your company and be active about it.”

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