Stihl Inc. is trying to train potential employees well before they hit the job market.
The Virginia Beach, Virginia, maker of power tools runs an annual summer camp in which area high school students turn raw materials into finished goods. All told, 40 high school students from grades nine through 12 participated in Stihl's camp in 2012.
During the four-day event, five teams of students competed against one another to build a chassis, a printed circuit board and a parts kit. The teams spent the first day figuring out what they needed and securing resources.
On day two, the students toured Stihl's high-tech factory to learn about manufacturing steps they must execute and how to develop a production timeline.
Projecting market demand—the number of units that will need to be made—and completing a prototype occupied day three. The camp concluded the following day with a competition between the teams, with local dignitaries, academics and business leaders serving as judges.
During the camps, teams compete against each other and are evaluated on various categories, including production efficiency, inventory management, quality standards and innovation. "There is one clear winner," says Simon Nance, Stihl's manager of learning and development and the camp's director.
Although Stihl does not use the event to directly recruit students, Nance says the hope is that at least some of the participants will consider manufacturing careers. A larger goal is to help usher in a "renaissance in manufacturing" in the United States by immersing them in the details of the process.
"That's not being taught in high schools or anywhere else," Nance says.
Some camp participants have inquired about the prospect of internships or even jobs with Stihl upon graduation. "We're staying in contact with them, because these young people could be our future workforce."
Stihl launched the camp in 2011 in which students collaborated on teams to build clocks. Stihl has not yet decided which item it will have students make at its 2013 camp but is weighing five possible projects. Whichever one is chosen will require student teams to perform computer numerical control machining, drilling, tapping (cutting internal threads), assembly, testing and packing.