Sometimes a spark of inspiration is all it takes
Inspiration struck David Maurer when he was a student at the University of Michigan.
Maurer was studying biology, but he found that the subject didn’t really suit him. One summer, he got a job working the assembly line at Humphrey Products. He ended up liking that a lot, and he became drawn to the people working there and the “clean and comfortable” environment.
That summer job sparked a change in him. Maurer went back to school and changed his course of study from science to economics.
As it turns out, making an educational and career-path change like this is not uncommon. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that about 80 percent of students in the U.S. end up changing their major at least once. That same study showed that, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.
When Maurer graduated from college, Humphrey Products made him a job offer. He started in the sales and product management side of the business. More than three decades later, Maurer has worked his way up to president and chief financial officer.
“One of the lessons that we [as a society] don’t stress enough is that a career is like a marathon, not a sprint,” Maurer said. “You’re not going to start right out on the top of the heap. There are a lot of times when you’re going to start out in an entry-level position, and just getting your foot in the door is the most important thing [you can do] because it opens up a lot of avenues for advancement.”
Maurer’s journey from factory floor to C-suite can become a reality for other children and young adults in Southwest Michigan. And area business owners have teamed up with local school districts to help in a variety of ways.
One way is MiCareerQuest Southwest, an interactive, tactile, informational career and college readiness experience. Businesses develop exhibits to introduce middle and high school students to different career options and help them map their future.
“It gives students a great opportunity to see people in action,” said Kim Weishaar, chief financial officer of Southwest Michigan First. “Not very often do you get to go into a plant, a manufacturing site, or even a hospital to see what goes on and what individuals are doing.”
During this unique experience, about 5,000 students from Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties will test-drive possible careers under the guidance of people who do these jobs every day.
Weishaar said the idea for the event evolved from hearing local manufacturers say that they were struggling to attract a local labor force. Kids were hearing from numerous sources that manufacturing was a field that they should avoid.
“Because of the Great Recession, the common thought was that ‘manufacturing was dead’ in Michigan, that good manufacturing jobs were now only available in other regions of the nation, and that all kindergarten through twelfth grade students should pursue a four-year degree in a specialized area,” Weishaar said. “MiCareerQuest Southwest gives students a hands-on experience in the world of manufacturing and other industries in Southwest Michigan so they can see all opportunities available to them here.”
A variety of Southwest Michigan employers, including Humphrey Products, signed up to educate students at 2019 MiCareerQuest Southwest at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center on October 29 and 30. Employers from industries such as engineering and manufacturing, health sciences, natural sciences, construction trades, and information technology have worked together to brainstorm and produce exciting exhibits within approximately 50,000 square feet of exhibit space.
“[Manufacturing is an] in-demand area, and a lot of individuals [employed in this sector] can almost name their own price these days,” Maurer said. “I would encourage parents not to let their kids get through high school without having some kind of skill that would make them indispensable down the road.
Because no matter what happens with the business cycle, business leaders like me have to make hard decisions about things. We think about who is indispensable.”
According to the MiCareerQuest Southwest website, the organizing consortium includes Kalamazoo RESA, Southwest Michigan First, Michigan Works! Southwest, and Calhoun Intermediate School District, among others. The two-day event will also educate students on Kalamazoo Early/Middle College (EMC). Through EMC, Students can pursue an associate degree or certificate along with their high school diploma, enabling them to save time and money when they pursue a college degree.