By BROOKE WANSER
A group of 40 Fairview Middle School students congregated inside the Horn USA plant on Friday as part of an event to celebrate Manufacturing Day.
A total of 180 students from Page High School, Fairview middle and high schools and Summit High School participated in the event hosted by the Williamson County, Inc. Chamber of Commerce.
Manufacturing Day, according to the official website, occurs on Oct. 6 and is meant to celebrate modern manufacturing and to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.
Horn USA, a company whose North American plant is headquartered in Franklin, designs and creates industrial cutting tools. Dave Fabry, Horn’s operations manager, said the company has been a participant with the chamber program since the inaugural year in 2015.
“Advanced manufacturing is one of the fastest growing fields in the country,” said Patrick Cammack, the chamber’s workforce and economic development director. “The job has changed. Now it’s people controlling programming and maintaining the computers, more than doing more of the manual labor.”
“It’s not the dark, dirty dungeon that manufacturing used to be,” Fabry said. “It’s really high tech, it’s clean, it’s safe.”
With that shift, however, has come a gap in the labor force.
“There’s an incredibly high number of unfilled manufacturing jobs,” Fabry said.
Cammack pointed out that, “manufacturing is about two percent of the workforce in Williamson County, compared to about eight [percent] nationally.”
At a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce meeting this year, Tennessee Manufacturers Association Director Denise Rice also expressed concern for the future of the industry.
“We anticipate a labor gap,” she said. “Every plant tour I go to, this is the number one issue.”
Tennessee is a national leader in engineering and manufacturing, according to the Department of Economic Development: transportation equipment is Tennessee’s top export, accounting for 23.2 percent of state exports, and the Nissan plant in Smyrna was deemed the most productive automobile plant in North America.
“There is that need more than ever for advanced manufacturing training,” Cammack agreed. Because the industry has changed, he said, events like Manufacturing Day are important to raise awareness about the opportunities of a career in the field.
Students who came out were all in some type of engineering or manufacturing course at their school, Cammack said.
Sara Reynolds teaches an eighth-grade course at Fairview called Principles of Manufacturing.
“It’s actually a ninth-grade level course, but we teach it in the eighth grade to get them started on the path to do the program,” she said.
The program she referred to is a series of courses offered in a partnership between Columbia State Community College and Fairview High School, which allows a student to graduate high school with a technical certificate and an associate’s degree in applied science.
“We’ve actually covered the steps in the manufacturing process, so I’m interested to see how they apply and recognize those steps throughout the day,” Reynolds said as the children listened to a Horn employee describe how their machines create tools.
“It’s a great opportunity, and we are so appreciative to Williamson County for organizing this,” Reynolds said.
Other sites on the tour included Williamson County-based businesses APCOM, Flash Technology, and Card Marketing Services.
Fairview Middle School eighth-grader Logan Brumit, 14, expressed visible excitement while touring the plant.
“It just fascinates me, how fast the engineering world is growing,” he said over the sound of machines churning water. “In 20-something, we’re gonna be having robots standing here and not need workers, and have a few people working at the plant.”
Logan said he hopes to receive a scholarship to attend a college with a good manufacturing department. After college, he said he wants to work manufacturing helicopters for the Army, or to work for Nissan, “if they hire me.”