High School students are often asked what they plan on doing next. Most struggle to answer that question because they don’t know what their options are. The Watch Us Academy aims to help with that, by introducing them to the world of manufacturing. At Wiley Metal Fabricating we’re excited to be part of that effort.

The Story So Far

The Watch Us Academy program kicked off in the spring of 2023. It’s configured as a partnership between a local area High School, Mississnewa High School to be specific, and nearby manufacturers. We stepped up to be one of the initial partners because we’re passionate about growing a new generation that can one day take over from our graying workforce.

In our first blog about this, “Watch Us Manufacturing Academy”, (May 2023), we explained why we were drawn to getting involved. Our State, Indiana, has a long history of making things, and manufacturing is still one of the biggest employers. Unfortunately, though, fewer young people are choosing a career in the manufacturing sector, and that poses a looming problem: where will the next generation of workers come from?

So, when we were asked if we’d like to be part of a novel program intended to introduce High Schoolers to manufacturing, we leaped at the chance.

The way it works is, that students apply to be accepted into the Watch Us Academy. Those who are selected get to spend time with the manufacturing partners, seeing what happens both on the factory floor and in the offices. The idea is to dispel any notions these kids might have about manufacturing work being dull and repetitive and to expose them to a wide range of career opportunities.

Students who complete the program earn a certificate in Career and Technical Education (CTE), and have the chance of an internship when they turn 18.

So how’s it going?

Learning Together

The short answer is, that it’s going very well indeed.

We thought it was important that the students didn’t just watch but did something. To achieve this we gave them a project that would require them to learn how things get done, both in the offices and out on the shop floor.

The project we challenged them with was to design and fabricate a metal sign. Now to be clear, we didn’t just set them loose. They spent time with various team members, observing and learning, and then being coached through the design and fabrication processes. But the end product was the result of their efforts, and it looks really good!

Reviewing how the process worked, we learned a few things. The students were a little quiet and hesitant at first, but that’s probably because they were in an unfamiliar environment. They warmed up though, and by the end of the semester, they were interacting well with our employees and asking some really smart questions. They also learned how teamwork is an integral part of manufacturing. Nothing gets done without help from coworkers at Wiley, and it’s the same everywhere.

The Wiley employees who got to work with the students also really enjoyed the activity. It’s probably fair to say they got nearly as much from it as the students!

One lesson we have taken on board is the importance of breaking instruction down into bite-sized chunks. We found splitting each class into 20-minute segments seemed to help everyone maintain focus and learn well.

Overall we are very pleased with how the Watch Us Academy program has gone so far. The students seem to have gained a great deal from their experience, and so have we. And now, as we start a new year, we have a second cohort of students coming to join us. Onwards and upwards!

Committed to the Future

Wiley Metal Fabricating has a long history of serving customers throughout the Midwest and further afield. The fabrications that leave our shop are put to work in trailers, utility trucks, and RVs and on farms and in factories. We’d like to continue doing this, but that depends on us having a skilled and experienced workforce.

Many of our employees have been with us for a long time, which is a good thing, but we’re alert to the importance of bringing in new talent. That’s why we’re big believers in education, especially Career and Technical Education. It’s where our next generation will come from, and that’s why we’re very committed to the Watch Us Academy.

If you’d like to learn more about the kind of work we do, and especially if you have a fabrication project in mind, we’d like to hear from you. Contact us to get in touch and let’s talk!