The Gen Z Connection Program is a program put on by White Bear Lake High School supported by the Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation (VHEDC) and others. The nature of the program is to hire high school students and expose them to a number of different cultures and companies in the manufacturing industry. The focus of this program is to show students that manufacturing is a justifiable career path going through a 2-year program vs. a 4-year post-secondary education.

The Gen Z Connection Program started in May 2015. The students work 90 hours and are paid $10 per hour over the course of 4 weeks. The students rotate and work at a new manufacturer every week. The companies involved are all local manufacturing companies in the Twin Cities. While there were 8 companies in total that were involved, there were only 4 that this group of students were able to work with. The companies are LasX Industries, Renstrom Dental Studios, Superior Machine, and of course, Mold Craft. Each company has their own unique niche in the market and has something new to teach the kids.

Each company that participates in this program has an itinerary for what each student will accomplish during their stay. At Mold Craft, there is an agenda that details what every student will be doing almost by the hour. At Mold Craft, each student will be working to create a mold that produces key chains. They will also do a run of 50 plastic key chain parts that they will be able to keep along with the mold and print package. Other companies in the program will be doing similar activities. All of the students go to White Bear Lake High School, located in White Bear Lake, MN. Each student was considered based on their class work as well as their interest level. In other words, the students had to have taken some type of manufacturing class and they must have shown interest in this program. The students also get some perks for participating in this program. First of all, these are paid internships. Each student receives a wage of $10 per hour. The VHEDC also pays to have each of the students OSHA certified. Finally, the Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation buys each student a pair of steel toed boots as some manufacturing facilities require them.

Throughout their tenure, each student will be exposed to working in a manufacturing setting. At Mold Craft, they even go through the experience of getting “hired.” On the first day, each student sits down with a shop supervisor and has a formal interview. Once the employee is “hired,” each student is shown standard employment forms as well as benefits packages. From there they get a tour of the facility, review expectations, and they get an explanation of the entire sales cycle. That is the entire first day. The second day is focused almost entirely on mold manufacturing and the days to follow are focused on designing and building their mold.

As for the students that participated in the program – Mold Craft’s marketing team got to meet the 4 students from “Team Milling” which are the 4 students that got to experience a week at Mold Craft. The marketing team spoke with each one of them individually about their experiences at Mold Craft. Collectively, they all had something to say about how great their experience was at Mold Craft. When asked what was their favorite part, I received many different answers. Kyle Anderson said, “Watching the machines run has been my favorite part. I liked seeing things actually get molded.” Some of the other students enjoyed milling, grinding, and wire EDM. Taylor Nelson even admitted that he could not pick just one thing. He had to narrow it down to a whole day. Taylor said, “… Maybe a whole day would be day 2 because the machines I worked on were really cool.” It was clear from the interviews that the students not only learned a lot, but more than that, now have an even deeper appreciation for the manufacturing industry.

This program means just as much to the companies involved as it does to the students. The marketing team had an opportunity to ask Justin McPhee, Co-Owner of Mold Craft, a few questions about the Gen Z Connection experience. When asked what the Gen Z Connection program means to Mold Craft he said, “The Gen Z Connection program is a way for us to affect the community in a positive way by exposing local youth to new opportunities. With this program in place, we are able to make connection and have an impact on the lives of some promising up and coming students.” When Justin was asked what he considered to be the most important experience for students, he replied, “Of course the technical things that they are learn are important. They got to work with a handful of machines, they were able to build a mold, etc. In my opinion, the most important things that the students got out of their time at Mold Craft was a lesson in workplace communication and a walkthrough of a real interview process. Those 2 experiences are applicable in any industry.” Finally, Justin made sure to note that he and Mold Craft will continue to support and participate in the Gen Z Connection program for years to come.

The manufacturing industry is not what it used to be. It had the stigma of the 3 D’s; dark, dirty, and dangerous. The manufacturing industry has come a long way in recent history and now, thanks to safety regulations and companies investing more money into retaining high level talent, the stigma is no more. Working in the manufacturing industry offers a plethora of opportunities that many people are unaware of. Going to trade school and getting a degree in a manufacturing trade is now more attractive than ever before. Engaging in a 2-year program simply affords one with opportunities that are either extremely rare or altogether not available for individuals engaged in a 4-year program. The 3 main advantages that students in a 2-year program are time, money, and part-time work in one’s chosen career path. An individual in a 2-year program will spend less time going to school, spend a fraction of the money than individuals in 4-year programs, and will have the unique opportunity to work part-time in their career of choice while going to school. If students perform well in their part-time roles, there is a chance that they could have full-time jobs lined up before they graduate.

Another thing that should get people excited is the type of work you do is much more hands on. You won’t be sitting in an office or in a cubicle at the computer most of the time when you work in the manufacturing industry. You will be moving around, actively creating things. Finally, the thing that should really intrigue most people, is that skilled workers in the manufacturing labor market are in high demand. By getting a 2-year diploma, you can rest assured that companies will be competing for you rather than you competing with dozens or even hundreds of other applicants for the same job.

The goal of the Gen Z Connection program is to show students that they don’t have to go to a 4-year college to be successful. They can deviate and potentially make an economically wiser decision for themselves. After speaking with the students at Mold Craft, it is evident that they have deeper appreciation for the type of work that is done as well as for the manufacturing industry in general. Mold Craft is proud to be involved in this program and will continue to support it year after year.

Mold Craft and GenZ in the News

Mold Craft is proud to be a part of both the GenZ Connection Program as well as the students that come through our doors. We’re also very pleased that the program has gained attention in the news, and link to relevant coverage on other sites below.

The Association for Career & Technical Education

“State Funding Enables Community Programs to Give MN High School Students Valuable Job Training Opportunities”

This article by the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) provides an excellent overview of the program along with statements from active members of the program. It focuses on the “why” to give you more background on the program’s roots up to where it’s at now.

Minnesota Public Radio

“How to make high school more interesting? Here’s an idea”

A MPR Radio segment that looks at the program from a student’s point of view. It touches on the things that can be gained by the GenZ program and how the student can benefit.