By Krista Klaus

More than 50 local high school students toured three Lee’s Summit companies on National Manufacturing Day to observe manufacturing processes in real time and learn about career paths in advanced manufacturing. For one Lee’s Summit student, the event offered more than learning: It brought a paid internship with ULTRAX Aerospace.

“A couple of students really stood out to me. They asked intelligent questions and caught my attention,” said ULTRAX CEO Brian Lincoln. “I thought, ‘why not bring these kids on board to work on Research and Development-related projects?’ And that’s exactly what we have done.”

Two months later, Summit Technology Academy junior Austin DuBois is on site at ULTRAX between 10-15 hours a week, working on anything from software testing to building displays for an upcoming trade convention.

“Most recently, I’ve been working to add components to circuit boards. It’s been really fun,” DuBois said. “This is the same kind of stuff that I do at home, so it’s like doing it on a more extensive scale and getting paid for it.”

DuBois said he decided to attend local Manufacturing Day activities to learn more about careers in advanced manufacturing but didn’t expect to land a paid opportunity.

“I was skeptical that it would actually turn into a job. It kind of seemed too good to be true,” DuBois said. “When ULTRAX got in touch with my teacher and asked me to come interview, I was shocked and really happy. I’m hopeful at some point to go full-time and build my career here.”

HR Manager Sara Magruder said ULTRAX decided to participate in local Manufacturing Day activities in the spirit of community outreach and service. The return on the company investment has been much greater than expected.

“Our return expectations weren’t high,” Magruder said. “We were just getting the word out there and hoping to help guide kids into careers with an engineering focus. We didn’t expect to grow our talent pool, but this really ended up solving a pain point for us on the labor side.”

Access to reliable and quality labor is a top concern for manufacturers, according to Jessica Hamilton, director of community and investor relations for the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council. Hamilton hopes other Lee’s Summit companies will hear about ULTRAX’s positive outcome resulting from hosting students on Manufacturing Day and get involved in the future.

“This is an ideal outcome and a win-win for our local workforce. We were able to bring potential workers into the ULTRAX manufacturing environment, and the company connected with kids they may otherwise not have had access to,” Hamilton said. “Placing students in internships wasn’t a stated goal of our Manufacturing Day activities, but ULTRAX’s actions show us what can happen when we begin to get creative in our approach to workforce development.”

National Manufacturing Day activities were made possible through a partnership between LSEDC, the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, and local manufacturers Polytainers Inc., IPL Plastics Inc., and ULTRAX Aerospace Incorporated.