STURGIS (3/27/2018)— Now in its sixth year, the reverse career day is a chance for Sturgis Brown High School students to learn first-hand about modern manufacturing processes. The program takes place at the Sturgis Industrial Park, which hosts several businesses that depend on machinists. Following the first reverse career day, the Meade School District realized there was a need for skilled machinists. Chad Hedderman, who at the time was the SBHS welding teacher and now is assistant principal at SBHS, said that every business they visited that first year had a computer operated mill or lathe-making parts. “They told us they couldn’t find workers to run them, even though the starting wage was $20-25 per hour,” he said.
The school district applied for and received a $90,000 economic development grant and also an additional $100,000 grant from the state through its Future Fund to purchase equipment. The Sturgis Economic Development Corporation also received a $99,999 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development that helped with the construction costs associated with building a facility in the industrial park. It now houses the high school machining class.
This year, 30 students, five faculty, and two school board members participated in the reverse career day. They learned about the machining process including software programming, CNC programming, and product development. Participants also learned about the coursework required for entry-level success, aptitude, and skill sets necessary to be successful.
Bar-Sto Precision Machine was one of the businesses on the tour, which owner Irv Stone brought to Sturgis eight years ago. The family-owned and operated business manufacturers pistol barrels and also does custom gun building. “We strive to provide the very best and most consistent product on the market,” he told the students.
Stone whole-heartedly supports the reverse career day program and has hired three Sturgis Brown High School students who have come through the machining program. “The benefit of this program is we get to keep the kids here where they can start their career, maybe raise a family, and stay local,” Stone said.
Sturgis Economic Development Corporation President Pat Kurtenbach refers to that practice as “growing our own.” “Here in the industrial park, we are able to train our own future workforce in basic machine tool technology to get them a faster start into the workforce once they graduate from high school,” Kurtenbach said. She said metal-related manufacturing is a large part of Sturgis’s industrial sector and is a huge contributor to the local economy each year.
Student Danae Woods said she was interested in manufacturing because although she wants to be a teacher, she plans to do welding in the summer months. Student Samantha Reicher said machining is part of her family’s heritage. “My dad has been building guns since he was little. I think it’s cool. I find it interesting,” she said.
Reprint courtesy of Deb Holland, Black Hills Pioneer