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John Deere Works looking to the next generation to fill the skills gap

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- John Deere Davenport Works invited about 60 eighth graders from area schools to learn about modern manufacturing careers. Students got some hands-on experience with various tools of the trade -- and heard from professionals why the manufacturing industry still makes a good bet for young people deciding on a career.

Some students could be seen trying out the torque tools, simulating an assembly environment. The loud whir invoking a race car pit stop.

"Like you're on NASCAR," said eighth-grader Christopher Tillian.

"So the idea is that we get kids before they get into high school exposed to what the career possibilities are in manufacturing," said General Manager Mary Pat Tubb.

Manufacturers like John Deere say that with millions of baby boomers set to retire, there's a growing skills gap that could present an opportunity for young people.

"If they go out and get the education and the work experience necessary, they would be very desirable to a lot of companies looking for the skills that they have," said Marcus Needham, John Deere's labor relations manager.

Local trade unions set up trailers at the event to introduce high demand skills in the plumbing and pipefitting trades, as well as electrical work. Virtual reality welding was also a hit among students.

"It is a training tool that can be used to help teach you how to properly hold your hand, wrist and the speed at which to move when you are welding," said Community Integration Coordinator James Hotchkiss.

If there's a message John Deere hopes that students take home from the experience, it's that there's real opportunity in manufacturing.

"Young kids today can absolutely expect that there’s going to be good, solid reliable jobs in the manufacturing sector well into the future," Needham said.

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