Kohler STEM tours inspire

By Cindy Howley, Manager of Stewardship and Corporate Events, Kohler

When you were in eighth grade, what did you want to be when you grew up? If you were like most kids, you probably didn’t even know the breadth of jobs available. Opening students’ eyes to the possibilities is what the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) tours from Kohler Company are all about.

The tours take eighth graders from the communities surrounding the company’s Wisconsin headquarters through the Kohler campus where they observe and meet with associates in STEM fields. Conceived from a partnership between Kohler and local school officials to address the growing manufacturing workforce shortage, the tour program began in 2013 with 400 students, and has grown to host over 800 this fall. In total, more than 1,400 students will have gone through the program in 2015.

After our first tours, we got input from teachers, students, guidance counselors and principals. We refined the tour, making it more focused on the hands-on lab areas and behind-the-scenes working environments of our STEM professionals.

The tours include a pre-tour study guide, a walking tour showcasing everything from research and design to testing, manufacturing and packaging. Along the way, students are exposed to the way Kohler uses computers, models, robotics and 3-D printing to develop and improve products.

We have a very sustainable tour model thanks to the hard work of our STEM professionals and volunteers across campus.

The students talk with Kohler engineers and manufacturing technicians, see the production floor, and visit product labs, which are not normally open to the public. A career fair provides students the opportunity to learn about actual professional paths before and after their tours.

Eighth graders are very impressionable as they choose their classes for high school and we have our STEM associates share their diverse stories of how they got where they are today. This shows students that even if they don’t know what they want to do or how to get there, if they keep learning, they can grow into many different positions.

The need to spread the word about such opportunities is apparent. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Deloitte Development LLC and The Manufacturing Institute, though Americans consider manufacturing among the most important industries in terms of maintaining a strong economy, only 37 percent of respondents would encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.

The U.S. Department of Commerce projects that STEM occupations will grow by 17 percent through 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth in non-STEM occupations. STEM workers earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts, according to the department’s research.

As a premier manufacturer in Wisconsin, Kohler has a vested interest in ensuring a healthy workforce pipeline, supporting vibrancy and innovation in the U.S. manufacturing industry as a whole, and inspiring local youth to strive for success and recognize career opportunities right in their backyard.

Founded in 1873 and headquartered in Kohler, Wis., Kohler Company is one of the oldest and largest privately held companies in the U.S., comprised of 32,000 associates. With more than 50 manufacturing locations worldwide, Kohler is a global leader in the manufacture of kitchen and bath products; engines and power systems; premier furniture, cabinetry and tile; and owner/operator of two five-star hospitality and golf resort destinations in Kohler, Wis. and St Andrews, Scotland.

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