Students attending STIHL Inc.’s Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp, held in July at the company’s headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia, had a surprise visitor. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross showed up to promote the White House’s Pledge to America’s Workers initiative, a national campaign to encourage companies across all sectors to create pathways for careers for workers of all ages. The students were there to learn more about careers in modern manufacturing.
Ross is part of an advisory board that in the past year has gained signatures from more than 300 companies and organizations collectively pledging more than 10 million training and career opportunities for American students and workers over the next five years. During the visit, STIHL Inc. added its name to the list of companies.
For STIHL Inc., the initiative was an expression of the type of programs it has had for several decades. “We understand the value of our workforce and we want to invest in them, because investing in our people makes them stronger and makes us stronger, too,” says Lorraine Wagner, STIHL Inc. vice president of operations. “The skilled trade gap is a challenge, and there is not a short-term fix for it. We all need to be thinking of how we are going to develop our workforce and what our business needs will be in coming years.”
STIHL’s summer camp event, now in its eighth year, is one part of the company’s effort to encourage a new generation of workers and address the growing skills gap in the trade sector. During the camp, students learn about all aspects of the manufacturing production process, including process planning, budgeting and product quality along with the significance of hard work and collaboration.
This year, 31 students were divided into six teams and challenged to some friendly competition to design and build two different types of fans using STIHL components. On the final day of the camp, a panel of judges determined a winner, with each student on the winning team receiving a $1,000 scholarship. Throughout the week, students went on a tour of STIHL’s manufacturing facility and received instruction from a variety of STIHL Inc. employees.
“Every year we get more interest in the camp and this has been our biggest year,” Wagner says. “In addition, 15 of these campers are young ladies, which is very exciting to see more women showing interest in this industry.”
According to Wagner, the camp is just as important for the parents as for the students. “We want parents to understand that manufacturing could be an option for their child. It’s not an industrial revolution kind of environment anymore. We have a very high-tech facility, with a lot of automation, innovation and creativity. We want to get that awareness out there to fill our own pipeline of workers, but also to keep manufacturing in the United States.”
In addition to the summer camp, STIHL Inc. invests heavily in other education initiatives, including a highly competitive apprenticeship program, a dual-enrollment program with the Virginia Beach Public School system, a STEM sponsorship program and a variety of industry workforce development initiatives outside of manufacturing. STIHL Inc. also sponsor’s NRHA’s Foundations of Leadership Conference, which encourages home improvement retailers to strengthen their leadership skills.