News Release

Published on Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Western Technical College recently unveiled a new campaign designed to promote manufacturing careers to middle school students. The campaign, “Max and Ben’s Manufacturing Adventures,” is one of the activities funded by the Department of Labor’s Community-based Job Training Grant, which Western received in early 2009.

Of the nearly $2 million grant, 2.4 percent, or just over $47,000, has been designated to increase the skill level in manufacturing occupations through implementing K-12 initiatives.

According to Jeff Kroes, Western’s CBJT grant project development coordinator, “Wisconsin has the highest percentage of non-governmental jobs in manufacturing of any state, just over 20 percent. In 2004, 43 percent of those workers were 45 or older and the percentage was increasing. If Wisconsin (and the US) is to continue to have manufacturing jobs, we must encourage our youth to enter those occupations. The best way to encourage them is to let them (and their parents) see for themselves that manufacturing jobs are interesting, challenging and rewarding.”

In order to engage middle school students, it was important for the college to have a unique voice. And what better voices to use than those of other middle school students? For one of the K-12 grant activities, Western has enlisted the help of two eighth grade students, Max and Ben, who were willing to visit local manufacturing businesses and document their visits with video.

“The Max and Ben activity is based on the movie ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,’” said Amy Thornton, Marketing and Communications director at Western. “That movie made history more exciting by putting two young people right in the middle of it. That’s what we’re doing with Max and Ben – letting them experience manufacturing firsthand and see what it’s really like.”

And, the boys really do become immersed in the action. They take turns using Flip-video cameras to produce YouTube-quality footage, and they ask their own questions at the businesses. Western hired Interact Communications, in Onalaska, to consult on the project, edit the footage, and film portions of the visit where the boys get more hands-on, like when they welded steel at one business and test drove a motorized wheelchair at another.

To help disseminate the message, Max and Ben’s Adventures has taken a mass audience approach through the use of the internet. Video footage from the duo’s trips to area manufacturing businesses is featured on www.maxandbenadventures.com. Currently, the website shows the boys’ first visit to D&S Manufacturing in Black River Falls, Wis. On Friday, March 12, the site will be updated with a visit to The La Crosse Tribune. And every two weeks, another adventure will be added. Companies that have already committed to host visits include, S&S Cycle in Viola, Camp-Inn in Necedah, and Skipperliner in La Crosse.

“We really wanted a good cross-section of businesses to start with,” said Thornton. “This shows the variety of occupations that people with manufacturing related degrees can pursue. From using computer programmed robotics to make precise parts for motorcycles to controlling tolerances for welds on huge yachts, the variety of jobs featured is very eye-opening.”

“We have had a great response from the participating businesses,” said Thornton. “And, the list of businesses who would still like to participate continues to grow. They are excited by the prospect of showing students that manufacturing careers aren’t the dirty, monotonous jobs that they are sometimes perceived to be.”

Humor was also an important element of the project. Max and Ben had fun with it and were typical pre-teens during the video shoots, as can be witnessed by the outtakes, which are also included on the website. “This was one more way to engage the younger audience,” said Thornton.

“The K-12 audience is a key target for the manufacturing industry,” added Deb Hether, tech prep specialist at Western, who is also involved in the CBJT grant activities. “It’s important to reach students early, before they make their career decisions. This way we can make sure they really understand what manufacturing careers are and what classes they need to take in middle and high school to be prepared for these careers.”

For more information about the CBJT grant or the Max and Ben Adventures project, contact Jeff Kroes at 608.789.6252.