Leading Schools Series: Wisconsin School Runs a Manufacturing Business Within its Doors 


Machine shop training in public high schools has dwindled nationally either because of a lack of funding or no funding at all. So in 2006, instructor Craig Cegielski approached the Eleva-Strum School Board in Strum, Wisconsin with an odd request. Rather than asking for money, Cegielski instead requested permission to launch an in-school manufacturing business.

More than ten years later, Cardinal Manufacturing at Eleva-Strum Central High School is entirely self-sufficient, meaning it has never requested a special budget from the school district. By operating as a commercial business in which students make parts for paying customers, the program creates its own funds to purchase new tools and equipment.

“We are running a real, live, working business in the high-school shop where they do everything that any other business would do,” Cegielski said. “We’re like any other business. You have to start slow. You have to start growing. You have to get in business and we improve every year.”

Cardinal Manufacturing has received national praise as a new model for technical education in schools.

The Program

Cardinal Manufacturing is a year-long two credit course that students must apply for like any other job. In order to participate, students must complete Metal Working I and II, and then submit a resume, a project portfolio, and a letter of recommendation. Once accepted, students are assigned a variety of job responsibilities such as quoting jobs and ordering materials or manufacturing parts and conducting invoicing.

Plus, at the end of the academic year, student employees receive a profit sharing check based on the number of hours worked and job performance.

“This is like an alternative school within a school. Some of the students struggle in the academic areas but they excel in Cardinal Manufacturing and in the technical field. I think they probably wouldn’t have had that opportunity without Craig Cegielski’s program,” Eleva-Strum School District Superintendent Craig Semingson said.

Cegielski calls it a “win-win” for the school district, since they can produce a higher-end program at no extra cost.

Throughout their employment at Cardinal Manufacturing, students are also forced to learn the soft-skills of customer service and time management.

“Our kids feel the customers breathing down their necks,” Cegielski once said of the program.

A number of students enter directly into a skilled employment position after graduation, while most continue their education at nearby technical schools.

Praise and Growth

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker visited Cardinal Manufacturing in March 2014, calling it a dynamic program that provides students with real-life application of concepts they learn in the classroom.

“The young people here are very reflective of folks I meet everyday in manufacturing jobs across the state of Wisconsin. They’re innovators. They’re people who are given skills but then they have to go and apply it, many times adjusting every week or every couple of weeks to a new customer need out there,” Walker said of the program.

Cardinal Manufacturing opens its doors twice a year to educators around the country who are interested in bringing a similar model to their own schools. So far, at least three other schools throughout the Midwest have launched similar for-profit manufacturing shops for students.

For interested educators, Cardinal Manufacturing has produced a “quick start” guide to its program.

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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Elva-Strum Workshop” by School District of Elva-Strum. 







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