Attracting the Next Generation

Finding future members of the metalcasting industry involves reaching out to students at all levels.

B. Sandalow, Associate Editor

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Let’s face it, there are some preconceived notions about the metalcasting industry. Some of these, whether right or wrong, can hurt the industry’s efforts to bring in the next generation, the generation that will keep casting healthy and vibrant.

Or, there are no notions at all. Metalcasting? What’s that? For various reasons, many kids simply don’t know about it or what it provides.

But that doesn’t mean the industry is resigned to losing out on the best and brightest.

Leaders in the metalcasting industry are reaching out to young people of all ages to interest them in casting. They’re going to grammar schools to introduce them to the basics of what a casting is. Some, thanks to state programs, have welcomed bright high school students into their companies to learn the business firsthand. And at the college level, schools are using many different tactics to entice tomorrow’s workers into showing interest today.

“The next generation must be recruited and developed so they can be well prepared to lead this industry in the future,” said Russ Rosmait, professor, Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Building Youth Awareness

For Ken Murphy, manufacturing engineer-melting department, AMERICAN (ACIPCO), Birmingham, Alabama, that means taking the basics of metalcasting to the young. Really young.

About five years ago, Murphy agreed to be part of the education committee of his local chapter of AFS. He found out that part of his responsibilities was doing Foundry in a Box, a program that goes from school to school to teach students about metalcasting through physically demonstrating the process in person.

Or, more precisely, making them aware of casting.

“They have no concept of this industry. They don’t know what a casting is, so we’re just showing them there is a thing called a casting and this is how you do it,” Murphy said. “They’re all around you, everywhere everyday. It’s something you could consider as a fun or enjoyable occupation when you get around to choosing a career. It’s not really raising awareness; it’s making them aware.”

Murphy and fellow chapter members present to students as young as first grade but regularly second graders all the way through high school, with some college students mixed in as well. There’s a history lesson about casting, a video and more, plus the opportunity to take home a casting of their own.

Murphy estimates he’s presented to over 16,500 students.

“You see lots of kids that are just totally enthralled with the liquid metal. We get a lot of positive responses and enthusiasm from the students and the teachers,” Murphy said.

Murphy also has a series of recommendations for others. He stresses that everybody in metalcasting can spare at least one day per year to help with a presentation, that getting into schools starts with convincing a principal, and that the talk with students doesn’t need to be formal.

Real-World Experience

Something else that’s been greeted with enthusiasm is real-world experience. Eck Industries, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is taking advantage of a statewide youth apprenticeship program.

Emanuel Vazquez, a senior at nearby Lincoln High School, has been working as an engineering apprentice under mentor Dan Hoefert. Since the summer, Vazquez has been working at Eck for five days a week, three hours per day, plus going to school. He also takes night classes at Lakeshore Technical College, which are an important part of his engineering youth program.

Vazquez started at Eck in June and by July was already preparing models for simulation. Because of that, Hoefert and Eck were able to train Vazquez on how to run and interpret simulations, and then use them to understand the entire casting process.

“The program really appeals to students who want to experience working in the real world on a career path of their choice,” Hoefert said. “And for Eck Industries, this is a great opportunity to share what the foundry industry is all about.  Students may otherwise go through high school and college without ever giving thought to choosing this industry path.”

As Hoefert points out, a lot of students don’t know how much the industry might appeal to them. For one reason or another, it escapes their scope.

“It appeals to people that like to make things,” Hoefert said.

“Before I learned anything about castings, I just thought it was something as simple as making ice cubes–just pour the liquid into the mold, let it cool down and it’s done,” Vazquez said.

For any company interested in such a program, Hoefert recommends they contact their local high school or technical college to see what might be available in their area.

“Be a mentor who wants to work with youths,” Hoefert said. “Consider this an investment in your future workforce and in promoting your company to your community: Keep it real, and keep it fun.” 

Higher Learning and Application

Getting youths like Vazquez to know about casting and the intellectual challenges it entails is one thing; enticing them to pursue a career once they’re in college is another.

When he’s recruiting high schoolers, Rosmait tries to engage them in campus activities. They can take in open houses and see the facilities in action. At PSU, an event called “Gorilla Games” includes a chance to see different types of technologies, including metalcasting and a session called “Molten Metal Magic.”

“Our strategies for students within our program is to engage them in courses where metalcasting processes are covered,” Rosmait said. “Getting these students involved in activities like AFS meeting events, open foundry nights and company day events allows them to interact with foundry professionals.”

Scott Giese, professor, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa, tries similar things. He said UNI aims to give students a hands-on experience, combined with lectures.

He also presents how casting can provide interesting mental challenges.

“I tell them the technical and professional skills learned and practiced in the metalcasting program are valuable for the future and are transferable to any engineering or technical discipline,” Giese said.  “I tell potential students that metalcasting is the hardest, but yet the broadest technology discipline.  It impacts the automotive, agricultural, computer, telecommunication industries.  By using this approach, I have discovered I have more interest in our academic program, doubling our enrollment in the last five years. 

“Once they are in the program and see all the cool opportunities they have and the interconnected relationship with every industry, they want to pursue a career in metalcasting.”

Giese said the university’s main recruitment tool is getting its name out there, primarily to fifth and eighth grade students. That exposes them to numerous career opportunities, ranging from hands-on exposure, computer simulation, and metallurgy. 

“For us, most of the students that come into the program recognize the academic quality we offer, providing strong experiential learning opportunities for our students,” Giese said.  “This word-of-mouth recruitment is usually through our metalcasting majors or through counselors through the community college system.”

 As an example, UNI has a transfer program with Iowa Central Community College, Fort Dodge, Iowa. Giese said community college students have excellent hands-on skills but some recognize they want more education. 

“They hear about metalcasting and realize we can offer a broad academic program but still have numerous hands-on opportunities through their coursework, similar to their academic experience at a community college,” Giese said. “It turns out that these kids spread the word around about our metalcasting program and career opportunities within the field.”
Rosmait, who has traveled to Australia, New Zealand and Germany to investigate what the industry is doing there to recruit, knows selling metalcasting as a career is a challenge because students have plenty of choices.

“Because of this smaller pool, we are putting lots of work into greater recruiting efforts.  This is a serious challenge for us.  Effective, good recruitment is not free,” Rosmait said.  “Attracting top talent to the industry is not free. Our programs are continually being hit with cuts.  If not for the financial support we get from the Foundry Educational Foundation (FEF), our program would be ineffective and shrinking.”     

At PSU, Rosmait and his colleagues give tours and meet with families. They have open houses and metalcasting nights while also visiting high schools, career fairs and taking students on facility tours to make them more familiar with the process.

Giese highlighted the importance of the casting industry’s involvement in these efforts.

“What we’re trying to do is take some approaches where we’re working with foundries to go out to their local high schools. I have a couple students who do farming as a side job, so they want to continue to do that,” Giese said. “What we’re trying to do is partner up with a business, a foundry, a school, and seeing if the kid can come in to work at the foundry to help subsidize their education.”

UNI has 28 students currently enrolled in its metalcasting program. Eight years ago, there were 10.

“We have pretty much 100% placement,” Giese said. “There’s enough interest from employers. I just don’t have enough students.”