Each year, on the first Friday in October, we celebrate Manufacturing Day. Some industry leaders have expanded this celebration of modern manufacturing careers to last throughout October, and Douglas County Partners for Student Success followed that lead throughout the past month.

We have so many top manufacturing companies in Douglas County that are worth celebrating, and what’s more, they have become strong partners in our work to empower students to explore new interests and consider careers in industries from timber products and furniture fabrication to computers and electronics.

Gwen Soderberg-Chase

Gwen Soderberg-Chase

“Today’s manufacturing is more exciting and alive than ever before, full of good-paying jobs with solid benefits and room to grow,” according to Made in Douglas, a partnership between Roseburg Forest Products, Swanson Group, C&D Lumber and North River Boats with the goal of creating pathways for students to enter the local manufacturing field. This group’s programs offer chances for graduating students to get on-the-job training and certifications, preparing them for today’s high-wage, high-demand market.

Other manufacturing companies in Douglas County have also partnered with DCPSS and local school districts to offer career-related learning experiences connecting in-school learning to local industries. For example Con-Vey LLC, which engineers and manufactures custom machinery and integration solutions for the wood products manufacturing industry, has given tours to students of its facilities in Roseburg. So has FCC Commercial Furniture, which designs and manufactures fixtures, furniture and other products for businesses such as Burger King and Chick-fil-A from its 160,000-square-foot facility in Wilbur.

Companies such as North Star Fabrication and Great Northern Trailer Works out of Sutherlin donate materials to schools’ career and technical education programs and even provide schools with equipment while teaching students how to use it. These efforts to support school districts translate to growing skilled workers who may want to enter the local manufacturing workforce, which is experiencing a shortage of job candidates as current employees retire.

Manufacturing isn’t the only industry experiencing this gap, and schools and other organizations are increasingly working to address some of the underlying causes for its existence. For years, students have been told that the best option for them after graduation is to attend a university and get a degree. This has contributed to a lack of qualified, skilled workers entering fields such as manufacturing and the trades, which don’t necessarily require college degrees. Seeking higher education certainly remains a vital component for many students’ pathways to success, but often, other options have been pushed to the sidelines. Some students may not be interested in the fields that traditionally require degrees, or they simply may not have the financial means for increasingly costly tuition. For such students, certification programs — some of which are now offered in high schools — and other training opportunities for industry jobs may be the perfect solution.

DCPSS and its initiative, Bright Futures Umpqua, work to support, build and promote partnerships between schools and industry so that students are fully aware of the options available to them and companies are aware of the benefits of investing in “growing our own” workforce. In other words, we help connect the dots.

Our goal through Bright Futures Umpqua is to make sure everyone is aware of, and has access to, the many wonderful programs, partnerships and opportunities our community is striving to provide students. Career connected learning, job exploration, virtual and real-world tours, internships — new initiatives are cropping up all the time.

Whether students want to attend a university, are interested in on-the-job training after graduation or seek certification programs, it’s our job to provide those options.

So as we reflect back on this year’s Manufacturing Month and look toward the next, keep an eye out for opportunities to expose students to new ideas and new possibilities. Let us know what you discover, and we’ll help connect the dots.

Gwen Soderberg-Chase is the executive director of Douglas County Partners for Student Success, www.dcpss.org, and the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub. She has been an educator in Douglas County for more than 40 years and is currently an Associate Professor of Education at Umpqua Community College.

She also serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley and SMART.

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