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story.lead_photo.caption Horizontal: Students from Junction City High School work together to use a battery and magnets to trigger a coil to spin while in the break out session with Entergy representatives.

Everyone has the same potential, but some people have more struggles in their lives that can keep them from achieving their potential.

That’s what Anthony Reines, a production line operation manager with Nexans AmerCable, told a group of high school freshmen Wednesday morning.

He used the example of a Jacob’s Ladder, a piece of machinery that conducts energy through plasma up two pieces of metal, to tell the students that they can all achieve in their lives and rise to the top with some pressure.

Ninth grade students from all of the local Union County schools, except for El Dorado, came together for Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) at the convention center. The day was designed to introduce students to a mixture of different industry-based career options that they may not be hearing about.

Students went through a general session, breakout sessions and a career type fair for students to visit and pick up information from participating companies. Some of the local companies involved in the event included Entergy, LANXESS, Nexans AmerCable and Clean Harbors. Students were also given information from South Arkansas Community College regarding training programs and certificates the college offers than can help them get into one of these industries.

MFG Day was organized through a collaboration between the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce, the city of El Dorado, SouthArk, the schools and local industrial leaders.

One of the struggles for industry leaders is a lack of skilled, employable people to hire.

“There’s a lot of local students, who graduate from El Dorado, who don’t know what’s here when it comes to industry,” said Bryon Frederick, a maintenance leader with Entergy. “We just want to make them aware that we’re here.”

This is a concern that was taken to the chamber over a year ago, which sparked the conversation. Between having conversations about what can be done, bringing school leadership into the meetings, taking tours of local factories and planning, the groups came together to host a MFG Day.

MFG Day is a national event geared toward narrowing the skill gap that industries are seeing by inspiring students to at least consider getting trained to work in one of these industries.

“We’re looking to develop a workforce,” said Matt McCurdy, a maintenance leader with Entergy. “We want to reach out to local students and bring in some of the local talent we have in this community.”

The goal of the event was to get the local high school freshmen exposed to industrial options in the area and ways they can get into well paying jobs that are available and needed, said Sherry Howard, associate VP of workforce and Advancement with SouthArk who helped plan the event. She said the students who come may not be interested in it now, or not know what they want to do after high school, but such an event can give them some information to think about.

“We need to really expose the younger generation to the opportunities that are available,” Howard said. “We chose ninth grade because even if they’re not currently thinking about it, we want them to know about it so that by the time they get to 11th grade, if they’re interested, they can enroll in a secondary career center technical program at the college or when they graduate they may find that they’re interested in going down the advanced manufacturing avenue because there’s really good jobs here and they pay really well, but they have to have a skill set.”

Students from Strong High School, Junction City High School and Westside attended the morning session. Meanwhile, students from Smackover High School and Parkers Chapel High School went in the afternoon. Students from El Dorado High School will attend another day, which will be in spring but hasn’t been set yet, because they wanted to keep from getting overwhelmed by too many students at one time and El Dorado has a bigger class size.

Students from all five schools seemed to enjoy the experience. Emily Bailey, a freshman at Smackover High School, said she enjoyed the event and felt like she learned a lot, even though she’s not planning on going into an industrial job.

“I learned that you can find a job anywhere,” said Spencer Frisby, a freshman at Parkers Chapel High School.

Industry leaders were interested in educating students about the industries that are in El Dorado and to fight what can be a negative perception of such manufacturing jobs.

“I just wanted to get across to the students that people can get a bad perception of the plants,” Reines, the production line operation manager with Nexans AmerCable, said. “People think that either you’re a worker or you’re a boss, but there’s so much more. We have people for planning and scheduling, engineering, designing. Some require more school after high school, but others don’t. There’s also the idea that you get stuck on the floor but a lot of the salary people we have who work in the front office started on the floor and have moved up. We want people to move up.”

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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