New Conexus program targets school-based enterprises in manufacturing
Conexus Indiana has launched a program designed to provide support for student-run businesses at more than a dozen high schools throughout the state. Conexus Student Industries is a network of students, teachers and partners in the advanced manufacturing industry that aims to strengthen existing School-based Enterprises, or SBEs, as well as provide tools to develop new programs.
The program will include support grants for the participating SBEs, as well as a case competition next month where the student businesses will compete for nearly $20,000 in funding.
Nikki Jagow, senior of manager of skills alignment with Conexus, told Inside INdiana Business that SBEs have evolved from what were previously just small operations involving student-to-student sales.
“We’re starting to see them in the manufacturing space within schools that have that type of CTE program,” Jagow said. “The students are handling the whole process just like the business. So, they’re not only engaged in the actual production of the product, but they’re ordering materials, they’re handling customer service, they’re handling accounting, they’re having meetings with their business partner, they’re doing quality checks, safety checks, everything, a lot of times, even running daily meetings within the business.”
Jagow referenced one of the participating schools, Perry Central High School in the southern Indiana town of Leopold, which has a student-run business, Commodore Manufacturing, that has partnered with Waupaca Foundry, a Wisconsin-based company with an office in nearby Tell City.
The students are building welding rigs for Waupaca, and Jagow said because the SBE focuses on every aspect of a business, it attracts all types of students.
“They open up the opportunity to students who ordinarily might not engage in a CTE-type class, because they’ll say, ‘Well, I don’t know that I want to be a welder.’ I’m creative, but you’re going to go and do marketing for that program within your school. And so in that opportunity, you’re gaining a ton of knowledge about manufacturing and preparing yourself to probably work in the manufacturing industry or logistics industry within Indiana, which is a massive jobs producer here in our state.”
Conexus Student Industries also helps teachers and program directors with professional development opportunities, but Jagow said there is a benefit for local employers that are looking to build a talent pipeline while also getting products they need locally, whether it’s an ongoing production order or a one-time order.
“So, they go to that local student-run business first, and they get to see firsthand the engineering plans that the students are drawing up. They get to say, ‘No, this won’t look quite right in our space; can you make some changes here?’ and just understand the mindset behind the kids and their strengths, their abilities, and that gets the students to understand those companies that are within their area.”
Jagow said the collaboration in local industry partners will help students see they’re being valued, and they know the opportunities that are available in their communities.
“Hopefully, we think that that prevents some brain drain, because if I understand the value and the promotion opportunities for me within my local workforce, I’m going to be more inclined to be there and stay there and participate,” she said.
The 15 high schools and their SBEs involved in the program include:
- Brown County High School, Eagle Manufacturing, Nashville
- Eastbrook High School, Eastbrook Engineering and Manufacturing Solutions, Marion
- George Washington High School, Continental Manufacturing, Indianapolis
- Heartland Career Center, Heartland Manufacturing, Wabash
- Lincoln High School, Golden Eagle Industries, Cambridge City
- Loogootee High School, Lion Manufacturing, Loogootee
- Madison Consolidated High School, Cub Industries, Madison
- Mitchell High School, Cement City Designs, Mitchell
- Northeast Dubois High School, Jeep Manufacturing, Dubois
- Orleans High School, Bulldog Manufacturing, Orleans
- Owen Valley High School, Patriot Manufacturing, Spencer
- Perry Central High School, Commodore Manufacturing, Leopold
- Seymour High School, Owl Manufacturing, Seymour
- West Noble Schools, Turning Point Coffee, Ligonier
- White River Valley High School, Wolverine Enterprises, Switz City
On April 19, the SBEs will take part in a virtual case competition in which the students will present a problem they needed to solve while showcasing the skills they’ve learned. The winning team will get $10,000 with $6,000 going to second place and $2,000 going to third place.
The teams will be judged by representatives from Conexus’ industry partners.
Jagow said Conexus believes the program has the potential for expansion not just around Indiana, but throughout the region and the country. Conexus is also partnering with Bloomington-based Regional Opportunity Initiatives Inc. to build a toolkit of best practices for other schools to implement SBEs.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job in [the] uplands [region] of really partnering with their local schools, and they have the highest concentration of student-run businesses in the state. And those student run businesses are incredibly supported and knowledgeable,” Jagow said. “So in building that toolkit, we’re really pulling from the instructors in that area and having something that other schools can access as you’re seeing the interest just steadily increase.”
You can learn more about Conexus Student Industries by clicking here.