LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Several local manufacturing companies are reaching out to local high school students to encourage them to seek jobs in an industry that officials say is in the middle of a hiring crisis.

Nearly 150 area students from Jefferson County Public Schools and Bullitt County Schools are getting a hands-on view of what it's like to work at places like General Electric Appliance Park in a series of tours this week.

Officials say in order to address the shortage of qualified manufacturing workers, getting high school students into their building is a must.

"We think we have to be more open in many ways," said Chip Blankenship, president and chief executive officer of GE Appliances. "We believe that getting the best minds involved on our team and going fast is better than any sort of patent protection or secrecy." 

The tours at GE Appliance Park and four other local manufacturing companies were developed by KentuckuckianaWorks and Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana as part of a series of activities during national Manufacturing Month.

The Louisville area has approximately 1,600 manufacturing companies that employ about 76,000 people and provide an $11 billion impact to the local economy.

“Manufacturing is vital to our local and regional economies, and it’s important that we create a strong pipeline of educated and skilled employees,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “These students are seeing the kind of jobs available in modern manufacturing facilities, seeing people work as teams to make products and learning more about the wide variety of manufacturing jobs that support our local economy.” 

The Louisville region has added 18,000 jobs in manufacturing since the height of the recession in 2009, outpacing the national recovery rate.

As part of their day-long tour of GE's laundry plant at Appliance Park, the students saw first-hand what it means to work in manufacturing -- a field with many jobs and not enough employees.

After investing about $1 billion in Appliance Park, GE said they noticed a shrinking pool of qualified applicants.

"These are really good paying jobs," Blankenship said. "An entry level job pays around $30,000 with no overtime and there’s opportunity to work overtime as well."

Blankenship said he hopes that the tours will help students the variety of jobs that are available.

"We hope they will see that manufacturing isn’t the dark, dirty and dangerous environment of our grandfather’s day," he said. "It’s high-tech. It’s robotic. That's what manufacturing is today." 

Bailey McWhirter, a Jeffersontown High senior, said she enjoyed the tour.

"It was cool getting to see all of the innovations that a company is making and being able to see the different opportunities that are presented for me," McWhirter said.

After Tuesday's tour, Blankenship announced a surprise $150,000 donation to Jeffersontown High School and Bullitt County Schools to fund equipment and programs they hope will expose more students to careers in manufacturing.

Jtown received $26,513, which will go to purchase a hydraulics troubleshooting training unit.

"Thanks to this donation, Jeffersontown students will learn how to diagnose and fix problems in hydraulics systems," said JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens. "Their teachers can insert faults in the system and teach students how to identify and correct them. That is cutting edge, real world experience. This is the kind of an opportunity that motivates students and gets them engaged inthe studying and planning necessary to ensure a future career in a job that challenges and excites them."

Bullitt County received $123,252 that will help expose more students to manufacturing jobs, said Superintendent Keith Davis.

Bullitt County high school students and students at Doss, Fairdale, Iroquois, Jeffersontown and Valley High Schools in JCPS will tour four other companies this week: Dakkota Integrated Systems, which assembles materials for Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant, LG&E's Mill Creek Generating StationNth/Works, a stamping company using sensor technology and Universal Woods, which manufactures branded mezzanine flooring and other products.

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter. 

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