Giving Tours to Students – The Only Wrong Way Is Not at All

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Giving Tours to Students – The Only Wrong Way Is Not at All

CMs share their perspectives on giving tours to students
A recent SBC Industry News poll indicated that more than three-quarters of component manufacturers (CMs) give tours to local student groups, ranging from middle school students to those enrolled in technical colleges and universities. Of that group, almost 14 percent reported that they give tours to students at least quarterly and three percent say it’s a monthly activity in their plant. In speaking to a number of CMs about their experiences with giving tours to students, it is clear that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for success. There were, however, some common themes worth exploring. This article kicks off a series designed to take a closer look at some of the main commonalities among those who give tours and how their successes can provide others with the inspiration they need to either get started or take their outreach to the next level.

The first common theme among those CMs who make an effort to engage with students on a regular basis is a clear recognition that connecting with the next generation is important to solving current workforce development issues in this industry. Simply put, “it’s the right thing to do,” says David Mitchell at Engineered Building Design, L.C. in Washington, Iowa. In a small community that has seen several large manufacturers leave for cheap labor in other countries, David says the manufacturers in his area are “local, home-grown businesses like ours” that have a responsibility to share with young people a clear picture of the opportunities for a good living that are available, especially to those who aren’t interested in pursuing college. “We are always looking for future employees,” he says. “If we can show what we do at a young age, we’ve had some success with them coming back.” 

Engineered Building Design’s Production Manager Larry Northway gives a tour to seniors in the Advanced Manufacturing and Welding program at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City.

Taking part in developing a student’s foundational understanding of how the construction process works, along with the integral role the component manufacturing industry plays in that process, has lasting benefits for all involved. “If you’re a CM thinking about starting a program like this, you can’t go into it thinking about the benefits to you,” explains Will Noonan at Cascade Mfg Co in Cascade, Iowa. “You need to think about it as an investment in the next generation for the industry.” After more than a decade of experience providing tours for students, Will says they are “starting to see freshmen and sophomores coming through.” This is great because he believes it is important to “get them started on the right path sooner for the classes they need to take both for building and designing trusses” or for other careers in the construction trades. “We meet students who may go into manufacturing, they may pursue architectural degrees, they may be framers,” Will says. “A tour or presentation benefits all of these students, whether they are future employees, suppliers, or customers.” 

Mike Petrina from Wisconsin Building Supply explains metal connector plates to a group of Construction 1 students from DePere High School during a tour in 2018.

Mike Petrina at Wisconsin Building Supply in Green Bay has a similar view of these efforts. He recognizes that a tour can positively promote his company and the use of components in his community but it isn’t just about finding the next new hire to catch lumber or stack trusses. His goals include “promoting the construction industry and creating awareness” in general because, while the construction trades students he meets might be future employees, they might also be future customers.

Dean DeHoog explains that Standard Lumber “got involved with schools when they saw the economy was coming back and knew they were going to need more workers.” Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dean says they “got proactive about it,” combining classrooms presentations and “virtual tours” with hosting groups for a more hands-on experience at their plant. “Our initial efforts resulted in some good young people to work in the plant,” Dean reports, “so when things really took off again and we needed more designers, some plant employees moved from the plant into design positions.” He says it was “a natural transition,” one that close to 20 production employees have now taken.

While giving tours to students is an investment, “it’s really hard to measure the ROI on this,” says Dean. “But I’ve heard of people who have gotten an idea that there was something in the construction trades for them through a tour or a presentation.” For Dean, no matter what the outcome – immediate, long-term, or never measured – investing in the next generation “is an important part of paying back to the industry, even if they don’t go into the truss industry.”

The next installment in this series will explore a second important trait CMs who host student tours have in common: a willingness to try. Many relationships with local educators start with a single phone call. Are you ready? SBCA can help! Check out our plant tour resources

Looking for your next client or new hire? Host a plant tour!

Plant tours are the best way to build relationships with members of your community. Inviting groups into your plant is a great way to educate people about the benefits of components and everything your company has to offer – from faster framing to career paths for the future. 

SBCA’s Plant Tour Toolkit is a new, online resource that provides best practices for planning and hosting a successful tour. Download and print checklists and talking points to help you prepare for a variety of groups: GCs, framers, students and educators, building and fire officials, lawmakers, and more! 

Visit sbcindustry.com/cm-plant-tours or contact staff at planttours@sbcindustry.com for help getting started!

About the Author: Mindy Caldwell explores how component manufacturers find success growing market share and building their employment base.