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Cooper Tire shows manufacturing isn't a 'dirty job'

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    Lexi Downs, center, tries to keep the tire turning on a spinning table, part of the work of a tire inspector, such as Brandon Theis, right, at Cooper Tire. Fellow Glenwood Middle School student Mackenzie Heitmeyer, is at left. Students from Glenwood Middle School attend the annual Cooper Tire & Rubber Company manufacturing day in Findlay, Ohio on Tuesday.

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    Engineer Patrick Bonifas, left, discusses tread level indicators and hydroplaning with students Kelsey Bates, and Kelsey Shindeldecker, right. Both students said they came to appreciate the knowledge and work that went into tires. Students from Glenwood Middle School attended the annual Cooper Tire & Rubber Company manufacturing day in Findlay, Ohio on Tuesday.

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FINDLAY —  Hoping to convince students to consider manufacturing careers early on, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is bringing middle school students to its facilities this week to show them how manufacturing has developed over time. 

Students went through individual stations Tuesday where Cooper Tire staff presented the entire tire manufacturing process — from the procurement of raw material, to the curing of tire segments through steam, to mixing of silica, to the finished product.

Cooper Tire is hosting its third “Dream It. Do it.” program at its Findlay headquarters and plant from Tuesday through Friday. About 1,000 Hancock County students are visiting the plant grounds to learn about how tires are made, and the variety of careers available at a modern manufacturing facility.

The program is a collaboration of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, and Cooper is holding similar events at its facilities in Texarkana, Ark., and Tupelo, Miss.

The events are planned by the Findlay tiremaker’s “Dream Team,” a small group of early career employees that spend time with students all year.

The goal, Cooper Tire Community Relations Manager Cathy Hoffman said, is to educate children and teens about manufacturing careers before they start making decisions on what they want to do in their professional life. Talking to them when they are in eighth grade helps plant the seed for when they are high school students.

“Kids aren’t entering manufacturing because they don’t know it,” she said.

At one time Cooper Tire could find enough qualified applicants from Findlay and the surrounding region. The company now searches nationally for candidates, especially for general labor, Ms. Hoffman said. Cooper and other manufacturing companies want students to consider careers in their plants, instead of going to college, taking on debt, and potentially dropping out or entering careers that don’t match their education.

The program this week also shows students that working at a manufacturing plant isn’t just mindless, repetitive tasks, but includes design, engineering, creativity, and other skills, with a plethora of different available jobs.

Many students think of manufacturing plants as dirty places, and don’t realize the technology involved, said eighth-grade teacher Ryan Lindahl from Glenwood Middle School. 

“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about manufacturing,” he said. 

Andrew Allsop, 13, tried his hands at the finishing station, where workers manually rotate each tire, checking for dozens of types of defects in just seconds. He hadn’t realized how many different ways there were to design tires, or all the steps involved.

“I always thought it was really dirty, and I didn’t want to do it,” he said of working at a plant. “But it’s not as bad as I thought.”

Tyler Volk, 13, said eighth-graders tend to envision themselves as sports stars, or doctors, but he said the Cooper event was a learning experience about the options available.

“I’d consider it,” he said of working in manufacturing. “I didn’t have that much enthusiasm. Now I might think about it.” 

The program isn’t just a collaboration between Cooper Tire and Hancock County schools. The United Steelworkers joined in on the event, grilling food for the students in the parking lot outside their hall, as well as running presentations and trivia about working at the plant. 

Findlay-based companies Ohio Logistics, Findlay Machine and Tool Inc., and GSW Manufacturing Inc. also had booths to introduce students to a variety of employers. Rowmark LLC is giving students facility and plant tours.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at nrosenkrans@theblade.com419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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