Roger Williams first encountered Craig Cegielski at an October 2014 conference for plastics manufacturers in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Cegielski was delivering a presentation on Cardinal Manufacturing, the revolutionary industrial arts program he started at Eleva-Strum Central High School in Strum, Wisconsin. Williams, president of the Indiana-based Royer Corporation, was in the audience listening.
“It was the last presentation of the day. It was a great day—a lot of good stuff. So I’m kind of leaning back in my chair and Craig starts talking and I hear this ‘student-run business.’ Wow. So I kind of lean up and I start listening to this program that they have put together,” Williams said.
“It got my attention like right now. In fact, as he was talking, I start texting Nathan Hadley, who’s our executive director of economic development in our area, who I work with. I said, ‘Nathan, Google Cardinal Manufacturing.’ Unbelievable. Home run all the way,” he added.
So Williams immediately started meeting with the superintendent of Madison Consolidated Schools, leaders of the local community college, and local industry leaders.
“Before I know it, there’s eight of us and we’re doing a field trip to Eleva-Strum in Strum, Wisconsin to see how this program really works. So we spent the day there and literally it is a student-run business. From sales, marketing, production, shipping—just absolutely incredible,” said Williams.
By July of 2015, they had a similar program ready to launch at Madison Consolidated High School called Cub Manufacturing.
“We need to enhance our workforce. That’s the major problem. I mean, we need people,” Williams explained. “I just felt like an obligation that I need to take this back to my community, and share the word.”
Cardinal Manufacturing was launched in 2006 and has inspired a movement of work-based learning programs throughout the Midwest, including Cub Manufacturing as well as Rocket Manufacturing in Iowa.
Cub Manufacturing, like its forebear, offers students the opportunity to directly apply classroom learning in a hands-on production environment. Local industry leaders invested in the project by donating equipment as well as their expertise and guidance.
In fact, a unique feature of Cub Manufacturing is its advisory board of local business leaders who meet monthly to “assess progress, process development, and projects.”
“As partners in education, these area manufacturing leaders are faced with a pending retirement bubble of skilled laborers over the next five years or so and they see this model as a way to help students learn a trade and prepare them to enter the workforce all while completing their high school coursework,” the program’s website states.
Industrial arts teacher Ryan Lamb leads the program, but students are involved in the management of all functional aspects of the business from conception to delivery.
“They learn about design, marketing, human resources, logistics, and finance,” the website says. “Each job is unique and requires careful planning and thought to generate the computer design based on specs, determine material needs and cost, calculate the retail cost of each jobs, how to promote product and business, as well as how to ensure payment is received and applied to the correct account.”
In other words, they know what it takes to run a manufacturing business when they graduate from high school because they’ve done it before.
Cub Manufacturing quickly caught the attention of state education leaders, who visited the student-run business in December 2016. They plan to use Cub’s program as model for other schools throughout the state.
“These same conversations are happening all over the state, so we are working to elevate best practices instead of reinventing the wheel,” said Shannon Doody, a leader with the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis. “We can learn from their mistakes and from their successes.”
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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].
Photos by Madison Consolidated Schools.