Beyond Shop Class

Students in this high school’s manufacturing vocational program get a hands-on experience making real parts for real, paying customers. In a recent presentation, the instructor gave an update on recent developments.


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Students hard at work at Cardinal Manufacturing in this photo from Peter Zelinski’s 2012 MMS article.

Two years ago, our sister publication Modern Machine Shop generated quite a buzz with its coverage of an innovative high school manufacturing vocational program. If you missed it, the article—and particularly, the accompanying video, produced by Todd Schuett and Paul LoPiccolo of Creative Technology Corporation—are well worth a look. These kids not only run real parts on real machines, but they do so for real, paying customers.

This program will be highlighted during amerimold tomorrow and Thursday. Cardinal Manufacturing will be exhibiting at booth 532 and instructor Craig Cegielski will be speaking at 1pm tomorrow on a panel discussion called "Driving the Next Generation Skilled Workforce." Come hear what the program is all about and how it works. You can still register today!

Of course, if you’re a member of the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA), you might already be well aware of Cardinal Manufacturing, the name of Eleva-Strum Central High School’s in-house shop. The instructor, Craig Cegielski, was among the presenters at the AMBA’s annual conference May 14-16 in Milwaukee. Although I was already familiar with the Strum, Wisconsin high school’s program, Cegielski’s presentation touched on a few developments that hadn’t yet come to pass when MMS covered Cardinal Manufacturing back in 2012.

For one, running a manufacturing business involves more than just making parts, and Cardinal Manufacturing has evolved to reflect that reality. In addition to running machines, students have the opportunity to fill other roles. These include working with the school’s business teacher on website development and other marketing efforts; handling invoices; managing communications with customers; tracking jobs; and more. Plans are even in the works to turn the room next to the shop into a formal office space.

The program is also more focused on quality control. In fact, it will soon feature a dedicated quality lab, which will house a CMM and an optical comparator, among other equipment. Meanwhile, the school is ramping up CAD classes, and next year, a student engineer may very well be working with customers on reverse-engineering projects.

None of this would be possible if the program weren’t successful, and Cegielski says the shop is busier today than ever before. And with students handling more of the work of running the business, he’s been able to focus more on teaching. Beyond showing the students’ the ropes of technology, that includes a strong focus on attributes students will need to be employable in any profession (showing up on time, maintaining a positive attitude, being flexible, and so forth). “Sometimes I wonder if the soft skills gap is even bigger than the technical skills gap,” he said at one point during the presentation.

Cegielski also pointed out that the students get plenty of intangible benefits. Cardinal Manufacturing puts the rest of their education in perspective—they see first-hand why they needed math class after all, for example. It provides a sense of belonging. It builds confidence. It prepares them for further education. It builds connections with local businesses leaders. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, the benefits for our industry are obvious. I, for one, would be excited to see this model replicated elsewhere. If you know of any similarly innovative vocational programs, feel free to send me an email. I’d love to look into it.