Addressing the Skills Gap in Advanced Manufacturing

The atmosphere in the manufacturing and machining labs at Seymour High School feels more like the inside of a manufacturing facility rather than a classroom because of a program entitled “Owl Manufacturing” –  a student run manufacturing operation, or School Based Enterprise (SBE), designed to address the skill gap in advanced manufacturing.  The program engages students in meaningful education while exposing them to potential manufacturing-related careers, sharpens their technical skills, and instills the soft skills and professionalism that employers crave.

Start up costs for the program were part of a $1.8M award the EcO Network of Southeast Indiana received from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development Skill Up! Grant Program.  The room adjacent to the manufacturing lab, which previously looked like a typical classroom, has been transformed into a manufacturing operation equipped with a 3D printer, laser, printer, Haas Mill, work benches, and much more and now known as Owl Manufacturing.

The Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation’s Workforce Partnership assumed the facilitation and lead role for the project with key support from a guiding team made up of Seymour School Corporation administrators and educators, manufacturing representatives, post secondary educators, and community leaders.  Using the expertise of the industry partners, a detailed Business Plan was developed with a mission to enhance students’ lives by:

  • Motivating the students to be owners in this program
  • Teaching project management, team building, advanced technical skills and career success principles
  • Partnering with local businesses for guidance and mentorship
  • Building understanding of the various operations of business
  • Emulating real manufacturing operations

“Owl Manufacturing represents the ideal environment for students to develop the necessary skill sets to become highly sought after candidates upon graduation while also becoming a significant pipeline of technical based candidates for local industry,” said David Wait, VPI Engineering Leader with Cummins-Seymour Engine Plant.

Established in 2016, Owl Manufacturing started with 12 students growing to 43 students in its third year.  “The amount of change that has taken place in the last two and a half years is astronomical,” said Curt Schleibaum, Owl Manufacturing instructor.  “The biggest reward has been watching the impact the program has had on our students and for some of them, changing their career interests to now include manufacturing.”  Through Owl Manufacturing, students have taken ownership of the program and their individual roles while understanding the manufacturing process both from the business side as well as the production side.

Community leaders have played a key role in the success and sustainability of the program.  Dan Davis, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Jackson County said, “Owl Manufacturing is preparing students for a number of jobs in the future, jobs that are offered right here at home that can provide a livable wage and rewarding future.”  Seymour Main Street has been one of those valuable partners working with Owl Manufacturing and establishing a Junior Main Street Store in downtown Seymour.  The manufactured products produced will be sold at a cost that will help sustain the program for many years to come.  “We are extremely grateful to the EcO Network for granting start up funds to help get Owl Manufacturing up and running,” said Jackie Hill, JCIDC Workforce Partnership Director.  “It has been exciting to be a part of a team that has taken an idea and turned it into a vital program that will prepare students for rewarding career opportunities in our local industries.”

More information about Owl Manufacturing can be found at