Area students, educators, industries and workforce organizations celebrated another year of learning and work Monday under the Advanced Manufacturing Program, which aims to equip high school students with the skills and experience they need to land jobs in the industrial sector.


The group gathered for a round-table luncheon at the Sherman Municipal Ballroom, where program administrators discussed the past year, handed out prizes and thanked participants for their support and involvement.


“We’re creating our own brand of manufacturing folks and we’re starting in high school,” Emerson Plant Manager and Advanced Manufacturing Consortium Chair Mark Anderson said. “I think that’s a huge success.”


Anderson explained the program got off the ground in 2016 and is currently comprised of 30 area industrial employers, as well as Workforce Solutions Texoma, the Sherman Economic Development Corp., Denison Development Alliance, Grayson College and the four high schools of Sherman, Denison Pottsboro and Whitesboro. The program begins with sophomore-level students, who undergo a year of classes at their respective campuses before moving on as juniors and seniors to hands-on work at Grayson College and an internship with an employer. An estimated 42 students started the program during the 2017-2018 academic year. Four students are expected to graduate from the program next year.


“This is a chance to graduate with 42 college credit hours and a nationally-recognized, Level-One certificate in manufacturing,” Anderson said. “This really gives you a leg up when you hit the workforce.”


Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates said manufacturing accounts for 15 percent of all the available jobs in Grayson County, but many of the employees who currently hold those positions are approaching the end of their careers.


“About 30 percent of folks who are working in the manufacturing field could retire right now if they wanted,” Bates said. “So this program is our answer to creating a pipeline of new employees. And I think these kids will probably have no problem at all getting a job. When they graduate, there will be people waiting in line to hire them.”


Speaking from his position as a plant manager, Anderson said it has been difficult for many in the industry to attract new talent to replace outgoing employees and fill vacancies.


“With unemployment rates being less than 4 percent, it has been a challenge,” Anderson said. “If you drive around and look at most of the industries in Sherman and Denison, you’ll see that most of them have ‘now hiring’ signs up.”


Bates said part of the problem is that many people still view factory work as dirty and dangerous, but said Grayson County’s industrial employers as a whole offer safe and comfortable work environments, some of the highest paying jobs in the area and great perks.


“They are entry level manufacturing jobs, but they are jobs where they can also immediately move up if they stick with that employer,” Bates said. “Most employers who are participating in this and sponsoring this also offer tuition reimbursement programs if they wanted to get a bachelor’s degree and become an engineer. It’s a great opportunity to further one’s education and to do it all debt-free.”


In January, Grayson College opened the Advanced Manufacturing Lab — a $1.4 million, 6,500-square-foot facility that serves as the central learning hub for the program’s second-year and third-year students. The building features numerous work spaces and classrooms, but, most importantly, Anderson said, industry-standard equipment on which students can gain experience and refine their skills. Anderson said the machinery purchases were made possible by an estimated $150,000 in donations from consortium partners and through matching grants from the Texas Workforce Commission and economic developers.


“With that, we’ve got the latest technology in those labs,” Anderson said. “The kids are learning on the same type of machines that they’ll be using out in the workforce.”


Denison High School junior Wyatt Adams said he was looking forward to his third and final year in the Advanced Manufacturing Program and planned to pursue a career in the field after future service with the U.S. Marine Corps. Adams said the experience, thus far, had helped him bring his grades up in multiple classes, but that he valued it most for the self-confidence and direction it helped him develop.


“I’ve learned that I could achieve more than I thought,” Adams said.