Conner Swan Shines in Battle Creek Pilot Program to Attract Students to Skilled Trades

A shortage of skilled trade professionals isn’t a new challenge, and according to forecasts it could persist all the way to 2050. Recognizing this issue, our team at our thermal manufacturing facility in Battle Creek, Michigan, knew a unique solution was needed.

As a result, they got to problem solving. 

First, team members brought in high school counselors to show the reality of skilled trade opportunities and dispel antiquated perceptions of manufacturing. But it wasn’t enough. 

Rex Hook, a senior production manager in Battle Creek, and Jillian Wesolowski, a senior recruiter also at the site, had heard about successful co-op programs for skilled trades. Inspired, they worked with the Calhoun County Career Center to benchmark existing programs and set out to create one in Battle Creek.  

“We want to show students what a skilled trade career can provide to them, while giving them on-the-job training,” said Rex. “There’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople, so we want to start looking at students who have an interest in skilled trades. It’s a win-win situation, our team gets a pipeline of potential future professionals, and the students get real-world experience.”

That’s just what they did. This year, they established a pilot program targeting high school students who are mechanically inclined and don’t have a current interest in attending college. 

The pilot group of three, 18-year-old students worked half days at the Battle Creek facility for three months. When the program was complete, the students went through preliminary mechanical skills assessments – two of the three assessed for an entry-level machine technician role.

The program exposed students to the industrial side of the trades rather than the largely residential experience they receive from other vocational programs. Each student was paired with and job shadowed a skilled journeyman in their respective area. As their learning progressed, they also received some formal training at the facility’s North Technical Training Center to further enhance their knowledge.

A Successful Pilot
Conner Swan, then a senior at Marshall High School, was one of the pilot program participants who enjoyed his time at the Battle Creek facility so much, he pursued and secured a summer position at DENSO that isn’t affiliated with the program and is considering full-time technical employment at the location by fall.

“It was fun. I learned a lot, more than I would through the career center or in the classroom,” Conner said. “It was a great experience. I’m so glad I was a part of it because I never would have considered working here before the program. I want to find an apprenticeship to help me become an electrical journeyman, hopefully here at DENSO.”

For Jillian, Conner’s experience is exactly what her team had hoped for. Though the pilot program recently ended, she is busy making plans for the next one, including looking at expanding the program to 17-year-old students, possibly having morning and afternoon student shifts and expanding the program’s reach through the Calhoun County’s Vocational Educational Center.

“Ideally we want to get to a point where we have a large group of interested students,” she said. “Like Conner, we hope they come, have a positive experience and want to pursue a skilled trade career at DENSO in Battle Creek.”