In its 62 years of operation, Fort Wayne-based Press-Seal Gasket Corporation never had interns—until a glaring need was realized. Nearly half of its employees are between the ages of 40 and 59, but Director of Operations John Kaczmarczyk says “young millennials don’t have avenues for them to find manufacturing to be cool.” To broadcast its “cool” factor, the company recently overhauled its recruitment strategy and hired interns for the first time—and even a teacher hungry for a first-hand experience to share with his students.

“If we don’t do something quickly…our talent will be exhausted,” says Kaczmarczyk. “Manufacturing isn’t what it used to be. Young professionals need to see that.”

Press-Seal Gasket employed two interns over the summer from North Side High School in Fort Wayne. The company also launched a co-op program, in which students can get high school credit while also earning a paycheck from Press-Seal Gasket. A third program, called an apprenticeship, offers 100 percent college reimbursement while working at the manufacturer after high school graduation. With about a dozen openings now at the company, Kaczmarczyk is hopeful the new programs will help grow its work force pipeline.

“In today’s market,” says Kaczmarczyk, “those positions are difficult to fill.”

Both student interns are part of the Hire Technology class at the school; the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics (AML) initiative Conexus Indiana leads the program. The two-year curriculum teaches AML concepts, while also giving students the opportunity to earn nationally-recognized industry credentials and dual credits at Ivy Tech Community College.

Hire Technology teacher Phillip Springer placed four students in internships over the summer; he says it’s one of his top priorities.

“Getting that practical experience and an opportunity to test the waters and see if it’s something they like—or even get their foot in the door with a company—I think that’s a huge asset,” says Springer. “Students have this misconception that the manufacturing industry is dirty and not very high-tech, which is completely the opposite of reality. I don’t think they’ve been given a really good perception of what kind of opportunities are available in the manufacturing industry.”  

With 30 years of experience as a machinist before becoming a teacher, Springer was intrigued by the opportunities for his students and even landed a summer “internship” of his own alongside his students at Press-Seal.

“It gave me an opportunity to brush up on my skills a little bit,” says Springer. “The closer you can get to it, it makes it much easier to develop relationships with companies and find those opportunities for students, but it also allows me to stay up on the technologies the companies are using.”

Dakota Jones, one of Springer’s students, enjoyed the Press-Seal internship so much, he’s now part of the co-op program until he finishes his senior year, and he hopes to begin an apprenticeship after graduation.

“I think [the internship] was a really good start to having a career in manufacturing, which I’ve always wanted,” says Jones. “I didn’t want to let this opportunity pass me by.”

After a successful first summer, Press-Seal plans to continue its internship program, and is hopeful Jones will be the first of many to transition a summer experience into employment.

“If it wasn’t for teachers like [Springer], students wouldn’t see the path of opportunity into skilled trades,” says Kaczmarczyk. “Manufacturing has a place for the up-and-coming generations; it’s our responsibility to participate in growing that.” 

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Springer says local companies are becoming more receptive to high school interns.

Springer says he tries to parlay students’ interests into manufacturing or logistics careers that might interest them.