Manufacturing Day connects students to careers

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Many students’ career paths don’t travel through a college campus.

Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools’ students spent part of Friday visiting two business that offer jobs to high school graduates who choose to enter the workforce in lieu of further schooling.

“We try to get kids to see some of the entry-level jobs that exist if they would like to get directly into the workforce,” James City County Administrator Bryan Hill said. “The point of it all is to try and get these kids exposed to some other careers.”

The students visited Ball Corporation, which specializes in making beverage cans and other packaging, and the Five Forks water treatment facility, which is operated by the James City Service Authority and provides water to much of James City County, for Manufacturing Day.

Drake Johnson, a sophomore at Jamestown High School, especially liked the visit to Ball Corp.’s facility along Endeavor Drive in James City County.

His primary interests at the moment are in biology, but the sheer number of cans and the speed at which the company creates its products intrigued him.

“I thought it was pretty cool. I enjoyed it,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts there and a whole lot to see.”

As senior director for operations for W-JCC schools, Marcellus Snipes said he wants students to understand the array of careers they have to choose from if they are not interested in higher education.

“Everyone doesn’t go to college,” he said. “We have students who might end up in the hospitality industry, which could mean hotels or restaurants later on because of where they live. I’d like them to see they can make money working as a technician or electrician, too. There are service jobs out there as well.”

Though students did not visit the school district’s operations building, Snipes envisions the facility as a place where students can visit in coming years as they do other locations on Manufacturing Day.

“I want students to be able to take field trips here so they can see what goes on,” he said. “We have plenty of staff and support jobs they might be interested in. It only takes them seeing it one time, and that might spark something.”

Other employers, such as Coresix Precision Glass (1737 Endeavor Drive), worked with the county and school district this year and in years past to set up tours that may pique students’ interests or show them a possible career pathway they did not previously consider.

Most students are especially concerned with how much money they can make immediately out of high school at places such as the Ball Corp., plant manager Wagner Ramsey said.

Ramsey thought the idea of making good money in a matter of years could help entice some students to consider what opportunities are open at Ball.

Once you get into the money, moving upward could be quite lucrative. Ramsey estimated 7 to 8 percent of the company’s 19,000 employees make more than $100,000 a year.

“It’s a pretty good gig, in my book, making that kind of money working less than half a year,” he said.

“If you want to come in and be an engineer, we have that. That’s how I came in,“ said Ball Corp. engineer Jason Ketchel “But if you want to come right in and work, we are a place that will employ you.”

Michael Vergakis, chief engineer at the James City Service Authority, wanted students to make sure they took back two facts if nothing else: All of the water that Jamestown High School uses is provided by the authority, and the jobs offered at the company may fit the goals of students who have a strong background in math and science.

“We need engineers,” he said, adding that the service authority has other jobs that may interest people who like using their hands and are interested in why machines work the way they do.

“If you have interest in computers, that’s a good thing,” he said. “Everything you can see in here runs because of computers.”

James City Service Authority general manager Doug Powell and Vergakis said the authority is looking for two waterworks operators to man machinery within a county water treatment plant.

Openings are generally competitive, but are attainable for those considering direct workforce entry after graduation.

Powell acknowledged that an event such as Manufacturing Day could go a long way in helping the service authority find more candidates for their jobs.

“A lot of our traditional recruiting methods simply have not been effective. I’d love to see if we could establish more of a connection between us and the schools,” he said. “I really do think there are some opportunities there.”

Powell told the high school students not to think they immediately disqualified for jobs such as waterworks operator. Even if they only vaguely know what the job entails, the service authority will invest in them, he said.

“You don’t need to come in with a bunch of experience,” Powell said. “A place like this one is good because we can train you. We aren’t the only employer who’ll do that, either.”

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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