Seymour Community Schools officials are working with local partners to create a unique vocational opportunity for high school students.

The school district is planning to start educating and training students in manufacturing through its own student-run manufacturing operation, also known as a School Based Enterprise.

Such programs give students a way to learn all aspects of today’s manufacturing industry by letting them run an actual business within the school.

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Still in the earliest stages of discussion and development, Owl Manufacturing is a project that will benefit students, the community and local employers looking to hire skilled and knowledgeable workers with experience in manufacturing, said Superintendent Rob Hooker.

“We are wanting to further expose more of our students to the potential of manufacturing-related careers here in Jackson County, sharpening their technical skills and instilling the soft skills and professionalism craved by our area employers,” Hooker said in introducing the idea to school board trustees earlier this month.

In-school manufacturing programs can serve as a grassroots economic development effort, he said, and can help a student decide whether it’s a field they want to pursue.

“Not only will this program expose our students to career opportunities in manufacturing, but they will also get hands-on experience to try out various roles before making an expensive decision in choosing a post-secondary program,” Hooker said. “In other words, our students will get to try welding, machining, construction, technology, office management and marketing prior to committing to a major area of study.”

For their work and commitment, students earn high school and possibly college credit through the experience and can get paid through the money made by the enterprise.

Some of the objectives of the program include teaching career success principles, advanced technical skills, understanding operations of business, team building, enhancing customer service skills and learning professional manners, career opportunity awareness, project management and emulating real manufacturing operations.

Much time is spent on understanding the importance of soft skills in the workplace, such as having a positive attitude, reliability and punctuality, diligent work, getting along and respecting others, doing more than expected, flexibility, problem solving, personal responsibility and good citizenship, pride in one’s work and professional etiquette.

It will take at least 18 months to get the program up and running at the high school. It will be modeled after Cardinal Manufacturing, a successful school-based enterprise in Wisconsin.

The school corporation is working with groups like EcO 15, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., the city of Seymour and local industries in applying for a grant to help purchase needed equipment and supplies to start the school-based business.

Hooker said it will cost around $100,000 to start Owl Manufacturing, which will come from the district’s capital projects fund monies to purchase the equipment. That amount would be reimbursed if they are awarded the grant, he said.

So far, the proposal is getting a lot of support and praise from people in the community.

Jeanine Baxter of Seymour said schools must have options for students who don’t plan on going to college.

“As much as college attendance is pushed, it is not for all,” she said. “A return to academics that prepare students for the workforce upon graduation needs to return. This could also prompt continued academics in manufacturing.”

Teacher Robin Cummings, who works with students in the high school’s alternative learning program at the Jackson County Learning Center, said the program could improve the area’s future workforce.

“It’s much appreciated as an option because our industry needs this support and our city needs employees,” she said. “The work done in our school and our industry benefits our community.”

But some believe the program would be a waste of money and would duplicate services because students can take advantage of similar classes through the existing C4 program in Columbus.

“C4 has been able to integrate state-of-the-art machinery partially due to the volume of students attending,” said Monica Combs of Seymour. “I don’t see how Seymour could implement this program with such a small base of students. Or at least implement it to be as good as C4. So if it’s not as good as or better, I don’t see the benefit.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.