Young Manufacturers Academy teaches applicable skills to students

Jefferson County students are learning skills related to manufacturing jobs and opportunities to make a living in this industry during the Young Manufacturers Academy at Southeast Arkansas College this week.

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce received a $15,000 contribution from the Gene Haas Foundation to host the camp, SEARK Dean of Technical Studies Lyric Seymore said. The funding pays for about 25 students in middle and high school to attend the camp, which began on Monday and concludes on Friday.

“We want our young students to be more educated on manufacturing and see what is out there now, compared to what it used to be,” Seymore said. “There are many higher paying jobs, and it’s a cleaner environment, which their parents might not know. We want the student to take this knowledge home.”

One misconception regarding manufacturing jobs is that they take place in a dirty environment and that they pay close to the minimum wage, SEARK design instructor Shawn Willbanks said. That notion is not necessarily true, he said, as many jobs require a high level of education.

Willbanks is teaching the students about the history of manufacturing and the use of computer software. He is also showing them how to use welding machines, a milling machine, a sandblaster and a lathe.

“They are learning the beginning stages of the computer-aided design process. … We play games and make it fun,” Willbanks said. “We keep it intellectual and show them stuff they’ve never done. I teach these young folks to take ideas from their head and draw them on a computer.”

The students will be producing dog tags by the end of the week, he said. The takeaway message is to show students future career possibilities, he said.

Yarri Clark said she is learning how to use manufacturing machines and the differences in manufacturing jobs between various states.

“This is a great program because it is hands-on,” said Clark, 14, an incoming freshman at Watson Chapel High School.

Sydney Carlton, 13, of Chicago said she is learning skills that will be beneficial in the future. She is visiting relatives in Pine Bluff for the week and said she learned about the use of machines in producing various tools.

“My favorite part of camp is seeing the machines, learning what kinds of products they make,” Carlton said.

Kiona Brown, 15, said she used a lathe to make a bolt. She said she is learning about safety procedures, including wearing protective glasses and sturdy shoes. Her mother is a student at SEARK, heard about the camp and suggested she attend.

“I feel like these skills are something I can do when I get older,” said Brown, an incoming ninth-grader at Jack Robey Junior High School.

Greg Wolf said he came to the camp at the urging of his brother and enjoyed learning from instructors. A 10-year-old home-schooler, Wolf said he looked forward to making tools.

“It’s fun to learn about manufacturing and see what it is really about,” Wolf said.