Uponor wows urban students with plastic pipe manufacturing

Like most manufacturers, the Uponor company in Apple Valley is confronting a skilled labor shortage. In October, the company—which is engaged in plastic pipe manufacturing—tackled this challenge in an exciting experiment that already seems to be paying dividends.

As part of its ongoing effort to inform young people about careers in skilled manufacturing, Uponor has routinely opened its doors to students from local schools, including Apple Valley and Eastview high schools and Valley Middle School. But on October 12, it hosted more than 60 students from two urban schools—Como Park and Harding high schools in St. Paul—as part of a manufacturing awareness day organized to celebrate Manufacturing Month. The goal was to introduce those students to modern manufacturing practices, to explain the rewards of working in the field, and to inform them about the education and training these careers require.

Many of the visiting students had no experience with manufacturing and no connection with anyone working in manufacturing or the skilled trades, according to Kris Somerville, a business teacher at Como Park High School. “We have never done a manufacturing tour before and I think it’s been really helpful to see the students actually being able to touch things and talk to people one-on-one,” she told the Sun This Week newspaper.

The students’ excitement at what they saw and heard was contagious, according to Amy Walstien, government relations manager of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association (MPMA), who participated in the event. Walstien described the day as one of the most exciting and impactful manufacturing awareness events for young people she has ever seen.

The day at Uponer had two primary components—a tour of the manufacturing facility and a panel of experts who spoke about their experiences and answered students’ questions. According to Sun This Week,

During the event, students were able to tour Uponor’s facility to see the process of making its PEX [cross-linked polyethylene] tubing and were able to talk one-on-one with Uponor employees as well as representatives from Dakota County Technical College [and] Dunwoody College of Technology…. Students were offered hands-on experiences such as using a tool or making an expansion with PEX tubing.

The students also heard from a panel of experts. Panelists included Dean Corrigan of FourMation Sales in Rogers, which represents product lines for the plumbing, heating and mechanical industries; Matt Lind of Legend Companies in Savage, which is involved in building HVAC, piping and plumbing projects; and Walstien. They discussed “a day-in-the-life” of various manufacturing-related occupations and the broad diversity of career paths available—including sales, quality control, and building one’s own business. “The kids asked excellent questions and were amazed at how much money they could make working in manufacturing,” said Walstien.

Uponor worked with Brooklyn Park-based non-profit BestPrep to identify the urban high schools to invite to the event. BestPrep organized the travel logistics, and MPMA picked up the cost of the buses to transport the students from their St. Paul high schools to Apple Valley.