• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

WCHS Industry Day brings seniors to factories

NSG PILKINGTON was one of five plants participating in the inaugural Woodford County High School Industry Day Tuesday. Each group of students got to tour two of the five plants. At NSG Pilkington, Eric Miles, a process engineer and five-year employee, showed students how the Versailles plant uses robotics, computers and ovens to make 1.1 million windshields a year. (Photo by John McGary)

About 130 Woodford County High School (WCHS) seniors toured five area manufacturing plants Tuesday for the inaugural WCHS Industry Day, which was organized by the Woodford Economic Development Authority (EDA) and school officials. A little after 8:30 a.m., a school bus carrying 17 students and two teachers pulled up to NSG Pilkington on Industry Drive. Each group toured two plants, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, with a catered lunch paid for by More Than A Bakery at Versailles Baptist Church. "We're just hoping to show the kids that if you're not planning on going to college, or if you are planning on going to college, that we have opportunities in the local area to earn a living and support a family," Polk said. Polk cited the movie "Norma Rae," in which sweaty workers with handkerchiefs wrapped around their heads toiled on an assembly line doing the same thing again and again. NSG Pilkington isn't like that, he said. "Today, it's very technology-driven. Operators have a skill set - not anybody can just walk in and do the jobs anymore," Polk said. Polk was one of several employees who made presentations, including a PowerPoint display and video about how float glass is made. The students were told about how the 310 Versailles employees make automotive glass for the car industry, and offered other statistics about the workers themselves. The average length of service for NSG Pilkington Versailles employees is 16 years, with an average age of 48, most of whom work four 12-hour rotating shifts. Ninety workers have been with the company at least 25 years, meaning many have been there since the company opened here in 1987. The Versailles plant produces 1.1 million windshields a year. Then the students, teachers and others donned yellow t-shirts (which Polk jokingly said would make them the envy of their peers who didn't get to tour his plant), earplugs and safety glasses for a tour of the floor. Eric Miles, a process engineer and five-year employee, was the tour guide for one-half of the group's half-hour walk through the company's massive plant. They saw robots doing work that many years ago was done by hand, and an oven that heated the glass to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Ryan Weddington was impressed. "I think it's cool to experience things that I honestly didn't know we had in our town. You get to see a lot and do a lot that you don't really know about," Weddington said. Told that at least one 19-year-old worker is making $50,000 a year, Weddington, who's considering joining the Air Force, called a job at NSG Pilkington or a similar industry "definitely something to consider." Students also toured Yokohama, Ruggles Sign, Quad Graphics and OSRAM Sylvania. More Than A Bakery isn't up and running yet, but company officials wanted to tell the students over lunch a bit about what they'll be doing. EDA Chair John Soper said a chief goal of the WCHS Industry Day is to recruit more Woodford County residents to work in local plants. Polk said most NSG Pilkington employees live in other counties.

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