LIMA — Five years in, MakerFest — an annual STEM-based competition and regional job fair held this weekend — is at its largest yet. Pulling in 1,500 students from 36 schools to engage with up to 100 local employers, the annual event has swollen since its inception due to a number of employers — many in manufacturing — are now desperate for good help.
“The students in here, this whole day is about you,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said to the crowd during his kick-off speech for the event Friday morning. “Be curious, ask questions and know that this is going to be a great time for you to be in Lima, Ohio.”
As for the students, some were ready for work while others were still exploring their options.
“Mostly I ask them want they want to do. Some know what they’re going to do. Some don’t,” Lisa Williams, executive recruiter, with RM Schulte and Associates said. Like many other employers in the area, she had set up shop at MakerFest to talk to students about available work.
Jason Bower, admissions representative for UNOH, saw similar reactions from students as they visited the UNOH booth, where multiple robots moved through their motions. Some students had plans, Bower said, and some were still figuring it out. But no matter what the case, there’s still plenty of opportunities in many different fields. At UNOH, for example, the college offers both business courses and more hands-on career training for prospective students.
“We’re trying to open up possibilities to the students,” Bower said. “Like with a lot of what the school counselors are doing, we’re trying to expose what their options are.”
A building over, Allen County Assistant Sanitation Engineer Brad Niemeyer was trying to show his career options with a little toilet humor. While other booths worked to grab attention with large displays, candies and robots, the sanitary engineer’s booth had a few brown joke props that Niemeyer said drew a lot of attention.
As is the case with many careers, sanitary engineers and workers are facing a dearth of new people entering the field, Niemeyer said, and when baby boomers begin to retire en masse, there will be even more problems filling positions. To help curb the issue, both the City of Lima and Allen County are working to institute training programs to bring in new workers, but the response has been lukewarm.
A total of 17 students initially signed up for the program, eight moved through the pre-apprenticeship course and a final four ended up starting the full apprenticeship program. That small number may help fill positions left locally by baby boomers, but statewide, the industry is facing some major challenges. Niemeyer is looking to drive interest and bring more people into the program by participating in events like MakerFest and touting the benefits of well-paying career.
“You bring it up and their concept is, ‘ewww, yuck.’” Niemeyer said. “We take care of our employees. They’re not out there playing in it.”
Outside of the career expo for high schoolers held Friday, students also had access to a number of competitions related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Running the gamut from cake decoration to robotics, students found themselves competing against other schools to show off their best STEM skills in 40 events set aside for the day.
Saturday’s version of MakerFest 2019 will be a regional public job fair scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon. Shuttles to the fair’s location at the Allen County Fairgrounds will run every half hour from UNOH Event Center, Ohio State University at Lima/Rhodes State College campus and Veterans Memorial Civic Center.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.