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Students set sights on manufacturing jobs in Rochester

In an effort to tighten the middle-skills gap and change the way people think about manufacturing jobs, Kodak's Eastman Business Park opened its doors to hundreds of high school students for a show and tell Thursday.

People who work in the field and hiring managers from local manufacturing companies spoke to the students about taking advantage of future job openings in the area. Through videos and panel discussions, the teens got a glimpse of daily work duties, which classes and programs will help them to prepare, and compensation and benefits.

The number of qualified candidates for careers in applied integrated technologies, tooling and machining, and optical systems technology falls short of demand by more than 400 jobs per year in 2016 alone, according to research conducted by Monroe Community College.

Presenter Lou Romano owns Romold Inc. in the region, where workers design and make plastic injection and die cast molds for the medical, imaging and automotive industries, to name a few. Romano typically hires workers with only high school education. He provides his staff with apprenticeship training and pays for schooling. He said students ought to know that there are more options available to them than the standard four-year college degree.

“The guidance counselors in high school, rightly so, they try to interest students and advise them that they need to go to school and need to get a degree, and that to be successful in today’s society you have to do that. This is the best alternative to college that nobody talks about,” Romano said.

There are more than 1,310 manufacturing firms in the Finger Lakes region, providing work for more than 66,000 people, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Veronica Keymel, 26, works at Micro Instrument Corp. and has had a love for making things since she was a child. She shared her experience with the students and tried to dispel some myths.

“The stereotype is that it’s dirty or you don’t need intelligence to do it, which it really isn’t true,” said Keymel.

Vertus High School student Shandan Jones had no particular interest in manufacturing before attending the event. He is working toward a career in information technology, but said he is open to learning how manufacturing may tie in.

“I’m not the type of person to pursue new things, but now that I hear they will actually teach us about it, then it will be easier for me,” Jones said.

The seminar also celebrated National Manufacturing Day, which officially takes place on Oct. 7, to inspire the next generation of makers.

Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She most often tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York as part of a journalism collaborative, and is a fill-in host and regular contributor to WXXI-TV's weekly news magazine program, Need To Know.