Subscribe for 33¢ / day

A group of Portage High School students get an up-close look Wednesday at the manufacturing process at Synergy Metalworks in Baraboo.

Perceptions of the manufacturing industry were anything but old and stale to the 37 Portage High School students who traveled to Baraboo and Sauk City Wednesday.

“How organized these companies are — how they have it all set up,” were the impressions for senior Wyatt Lewko, who said he’s considering career opportunities in heavy equipment and automotive. He and his peers toured Synergy Metalworks, Teel Plastics and McFarlanes’ Retail Service Center.

“You can rise up in these companies,” Lewko said, noting there are opportunities for advancement.

It’s a surprisingly common misconception that manufacturing jobs don’t pay well, Ben Allbs said. Allbs, also a senior, plans to study industrial maintenance at Madison College in the fall. He won’t be shy in suggesting that underclassmen pay closer attention to manufacturing jobs.

“It’s crazy how people still think,” Allbs said. “Fifty years ago (conditions) were a lot worse than they are now, but it’s not that way anymore.

“So look at your options besides a four-year school. For some people that’s the right choice. But for others, it’s not.”

McFarlanes’ in Sauk City seemed to impress Allbs, Lewko and senior Jacob Taft in different ways. McFarlanes’ offers a variety of jobs, from building agriculture equipment to car repair and sales, the main takeaway for Lewko.

For Taft, he watched closely as workers there checked “the size of the metal to make sure everything fits” during the preconstruction of steel buildings, impressed by the meticulousness of the process.

Allbs put it more simply: “It’s really big. It’s widespread.”

“I know a few people who (work in manufacturing) so it interests me,” he said. “I like hands-on work, fixing things. I would definitely consider working there.”

Technology education teacher Rich Hemler said Wednesday’s tours were intended to “open young people’s minds” to careers in manufacturing. He wanted them to understand it’s a viable career path with “lots of chances for moving up.”

“I really liked how they talked about everything, even the application process,” Hemler said. “(Students) also saw how you can continue to learn once you’re in these facilities, seeing all the hats people wear in manufacturing — how some of them started out on the floor (at Teel) but moved up to engineering or in management.”

All of the participating students are enrolled in manufacturing courses at Portage High School, including seniors, juniors and sophomores. Hemler’s students toured businesses outside of Portage because the school had already toured so many Portage businesses, like Cardinal Glass and Rayovac. Later this school year, though, students will tour Matrex Mold and Tool in Portage.

It’s tough to find good definitions of manufacturing or skilled trades, Hemler said. The problem seems to be that people think only of construction or automotive jobs when they consider the trades.

Breaking that way of thinking is challenging.

“You really can’t quantify it,” Hemler said. “(But) the skilled trades means working smart and working hard at your job.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of students and (the community), because there are so many jobs going unfilled right now.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter