Sun Prairie video series aims to undo manufacturing’s ‘dirty’ reputation
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The manufacturing sector has a lingering image problem, and it’s preventing many local businesses from putting their best foot forward.
Manufacturers’ ongoing dilemma is simple: Before they can attract the next generation of workers, they need to clear the air — and that involves letting people know that the atmosphere inside their facilities is not choked with the clouds of soot, dirt, and coal dust that many high school graduates imagine when choosing a career path.
Since 2001, the Manufacturing Institute has published a Skills Gap Report in conjunction with Deloitte Consulting. In its most recent study, from 2011, the organization revealed that 51% of the companies it surveyed had reported difficulty maintaining production levels consistent with customer demand as a result of workforce shortages and skill deficiencies.
“People who may not have any exposure to manufacturing, especially in today’s world, kind of have the idea of manufacturing as being in a coal mine — dirty, godawful, fumes everywhere, smoke billowing, black lung.” — Neil Stechschulte, economic development director, City of Sun Prairie
And local businesses are no stranger to this problem. Just ask Sun Prairie Economic Development Director Neil Stechschulte.
“People who may not have any exposure to manufacturing, especially in today’s world, kind of have the idea of manufacturing as being in a coal mine — dirty, godawful, fumes everywhere, smoke billowing, black lung,” said Stechschulte. “There are all these awful perceptions of manufacturing, and it just really couldn’t be further from the truth in most cases.
“They’re using clean-room technology, and the lighting is natural daylighting, and it’s just a complete 180 of what the misperception is a lot of times of manufacturing.”
The disconnect between what modern workplaces are really like and how people often perceive them was enough of an issue that the City of Sun Prairie, its businesses, and its school officials recently sat down to brainstorm some solutions, and that sparked an idea.
“We didn’t have to identify the issue, we had already done that, but we really got thinking about what we could do to make these connections between local businesses, our students, and parents,” said Stechschulte. “And fortunately for us in Sun Prairie, my department oversees our local media center here, our cable access channel.
“So I thought, ‘I wonder if we could use our equipment and our studio and staff to do some very basic videos to let people know what jobs are available in the marketplace, and what kinds of salaries and benefits they offer. But the videos are really aimed at showing people what the inside of these companies look like.”
The city’s video series is the cornerstone of its Sun Prairie Works initiative, which was designed to increase awareness of employment opportunities available in Sun Prairie. Each video includes an intro from the company’s president, CEO, or other top official; an overview of the company; a listing of available positions; information on the skills those jobs require; and information on benefits and wages.
For an initiative that was launched only last November, Sun Prairie Works has already built plenty of momentum, with six videos currently posted on the city’s economic development website. So far, the city and participating employees haven’t tried to measure their success in recruiting employees through the videos, but according to Stechschulte, the initial feedback has been positive.
“The individual companies that have had videos done for them have really liked them,” said Stechschulte.