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STIHL Addresses Future Skills Gap With Manufacturing Camp

It started with learning how to conduct time studies and solder, morphed into lessons on team dynamics and production planning and ended with a robot building competition. Last week, STIHL Inc. hosted its fifth Annual Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in conjunction with Dream It. Do It. Virginia. The event brought together 35 high school students from the area July 27-30 to develop hands-on skills and learn more about careers in manufacturing.

“If we look at our various outreach efforts over the years–our apprenticeship program, our co-op intern students–we thought ‘is there something we need to do to reach students earlier?’ At least, if nothing else, to introduce them to engineering sciences and how that relates to manufacturing,” says Stephen Ballenger, vice president of operations at STIHL Inc. “It’s important that we start grabbing students and start introducing some of the technologies we have here [at STIHL] and some of the things they need to be focusing on should they decide to pursue a manufacturing path or make a career for themselves. “

Students work in five teams of seven, each mentored by a volunteer coach and instructed by a variety of STIHL employees, including members of STIHL’s apprenticeship program. Teams spend the first three days of camp developing skills, building their business and planning their production schedules in preparation for competition day. The goal: to build as many functioning obstacle-avoiding robots as possible and earn a $1,000 scholarship for each member of the winning team.

However, camp organizers make sure students learn that manufacturing is more than just physically creating a product. According to camp runner and STIHL’s manager of talent development, Agartha Larbi, students not only build robots but also build a business. Each team must consider concepts such as branding, marketing, productivity, budgeting and safety–and can even be fined for infractions, such as keeping a messy work area or not wearing safety glasses.

In between hands-on activities and team building exercises, the students also hear speakers from STIHL, such as Lorraine Wagner, director of manufacturing and Mike McLean, supervisor of talent acquisition who discussed both the leadership and the wide-range of career opportunities available to young people.

“One of the biggest things we’re doing [with this camp] is addressing the skills gap. Everybody in the industry is facing that, “says Wagner. “By growing our own [next employees] and fostering the knowledge of what manufacturing is in schools, we can’t fill the gap we have now, but we can stop it from getting worse and prevent it from happening again.”

STIHL is already seeing this strategy play out through Bradley Holmes, the first summer camp participant to apply for and be accepted into STIHL’s apprenticeship program.

“I think the summer camp is a very good way for kids who are interested in this type of work to get their foot in the door”, says Holmes. “When I did the summer camp I was not planning on being where I am. It was just something I was doing in the summer that kind of went along with what I was doing in school. It was interesting. I found it very engaging, very productive for me. An old member of the Human Resources team noticed the liking I was taking to it and pulled me in closer to STIHL. Ever since, I’ve had this close relationship with the company that turned into a working relationship. I was very lucky to have that opportunity.”

STIHL believes that stories like Holmes’ will not only help address the skills gap on the manufacturing side of their business, but will ultimately strengthen the STIHL brand as a whole, which positively impacts dealers.

“The dealers want to make sure that we can sustain the STIHL brand,” say Ballenger. “We want to maintain the quality of the brand and continue to deliver on it, so we’re looking at students and bringing them along to make sure we have that brand sustainability and quality in the future.”

For a closer look at the STIHL’s Annual Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp, check out the photo gallery below.

About Allison DeWitt

Allison and her team provide independent home improvement dealers with valuable educational content, operational resources and networking opportunities by creating training programs, hosting industry events, speaking throughout the industry and developing member benefits. Allison earned her B.S. from Ball State University, where she studied Organizational Communication, Hospitality Management and Leadership Studies. She is a Certified Meeting Professional® (CMP) and received a Certificate in Association Management from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE).

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