It takes more than tax incentives and good schools for kids to attract the manufacturing industry to Pasco County. It’s going to take a solid workforce base already living here. And that’s where programs like the engineering academy at schools like River Ridge High School come into play.
The only program of its kind in Pasco County, these engineering students are learning about the ever-evolving manufacturing industry — one that more and more requires homegrown highly skilled labor to take on complex jobs.
“Many times, kids don’t have a clue what they want to do when they graduate from high school,” said Bryan Kamm, director of public and government relations for Bauer Foundation Corp. in Odessa. “And when they do, they still don’t have the experience they need when they graduate from college. Here we’re trying to bridge that gap.”
The doors of Bauer Foundation Corp., a company that specializes in building foundations and equipment, were opened to students around the area last week as part of National Manufacturing Day. Pasco-Hernando Community College organized this year’s tours, providing an in-the-field look at industry to more than 160 students in the River Ridge program as well as 100 more from Nature Coast Technical High School and Hernando Robotics Club.
The River Ridge program pulls in students from all over the county, and continues to grow, said former school board member and current Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
“If you stay in engineering, you have the highest chance of anybody to get a job,” Starkey told some of the students during the Bauer Foundation Corp. visit. “Whether you go on to college, or you just want to get a job after high school, you will get the highest pay and have the most opportunities.
“That, to me, is why engineering is so important. It will help bring American jobs back from overseas, and bring stability to our economy.”
Manufacturing jobs have remained flat year-over-year in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics for August. The Tampa Bay region, which Pasco County is a part of, has actually witnessed manufacturing jobs drop 3 percent since last year. Yet, some 600,000 manufacturing jobs across the country remained unfilled because of the gaps between the job requirements and the skills of those who are applying for them, according to PHCC.
Many young people, especially those under 25, aren’t even considering manufacturing jobs in their future. That’s despite the fact that manufacturing salaries are typically 19 percent higher than other jobs, according to a report from The Manufacturing Institute. The national trend is for salaries and benefits averaging at just under $79,000, while non-manufacturing jobs pay a little more than $66,000.
Manufacturing jobs are also more likely to have benefits — 78 percent offer health care, for example — compared to non-manufacturing jobs, which only 54 percent offer similar benefits, according to the study.
Pasco County offers a wide range of manufacturing opportunities through 320 different facilities, according to the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board. That includes 3,100 jobs in highly technical advanced fields in pharmaceutical packaging, aerospace, military and defense manufacturing, as well as the manufacturing of baking equipment, and storm and lightning detectors. The county also offers thermoforming jobs, where plastic is heated and shaped into different products.
Bauer Foundation focuses on the construction of building foundations, and developing the equipment that creates it.
A division of the German-based Bauer Group, the Pasco company employs up to 80 people at its Odessa site, but has more than 200 people working in construction sites across the Southeast.
Bauer offers an apprenticeship program that allows high school students to apply for what becomes a job complementing their schoolwork. It introduces jobs that students may not even had known existed before, and helps create the local workforce manufacturing companies like Bauer needs.
“We’re a very highly technical and skilled company from Germany, and when someone comes in the door and applies, generally they don’t have the skills they need to work for us,” Bauer’s Kamm said. “There ends up being this learning curve, where over a long period of time, they can come up to speed. And they can do that while still going to school.”
Bauer typically takes in four students each year for its summer orientation program, a six-week program that is ultimately a long-term job interview. The best candidates from that group are offered on-the-job training that they can do during their junior and senior years, and while they continue their education.
And if they choose a local school, like PHCC, Bauer also pays their tuition.
For more information on National Manufacturing Day and how to pursue a job in the manufacturing industry, visit mfgday.com.