ELKHART — Eighth-graders in Elkhart County are taking field trips this week that have them exploring career opportunities in manufacturing.

Organized by the Horizon Education Alliance, nearly 3,000 students are getting industrial tours from one of 78 participating manufacturing sites in the area.

The event is being held in conjunction with Manufacturing Day, a nationwide effort by manufacturers to combat a skilled labor shortage and misconception about factory work. Nationally, this is a one-day event, but because of the heavy volume of participants, Elkhart County coordinates tours and activities over a period of seven days spanning three weeks, organizers said.

A group of students at West Side Middle School got a tour of Alliance RV, a startup RV company on the southeast corner of C.R. 17 and Beck Drive.

Alliance RV is owned by brothers Coley and Ryan Brady, of Granger, who have assembled a team with an eye toward starting production in 2020. The family-owned company plans to make fifth-wheel and tow-behind campers using quality materials.

During the tour, the students got to see a prototype RV under construction, learn about the facility and walk the grounds of a large facility expansion currently under construction near the company’s temporary site.

Horizon Education Alliance has coordinated the Manufacturing Day program for four years. Andrew Hershberger, director of marketing and communication for the agency, said the purpose of the event is to give students firsthand look at manufacturing and to give them a head start on possible career options before high school.

“The traditional educational system doesn’t necessarily make students the careers a focus until the end of high school closer to college period,” Hershberger said. “Manufacturing day provides students with that immersive experience that exposes them to what’s possible and to get them thinking in a more concrete way about what it would look like if they worked in a place like this and a feel for if it’s a good fit.”

Bill Martin, vice president of customer service at Alliance RV, told the students there are many ways they can be involved in the manufacturing industry aside from working on the production line. He led the tour with Ryan Brady.

“You can be in the office doing the books, a salesperson or involved in marketing and communications and much more,” he said.

The students that took part in the tour said it was an eye-opener and encouraged them to start thinking and mapping out their career plans as soon as possible.

“I’m interested in starting an art business after high school and this tour was helpful because I learned about the different tactics to start it up,” said Elise Walker, eighth-grader.

Another student, Alvernon Mitchell, said he’s still undecided about his career path, but said he thought the tour was educational.

“It was interesting to see how RVs are made and all the work that’s put into making one, I had never seen that before,” he said.

Monday’s tour was among the first to take place during Elkhart County’s Manufacturing Days.

Martin said he hopes the tour exposed the students to the various career paths they can have in manufacturing and helped them narrow their focus on a career.

“I think it’s critical that students get that real-world experience of seeing how business is done and seeing how people interact in that business setting, which isn’t something you see in school,” he said.

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