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Wenger’s childhood fun turns into his adult career

Tue, Apr 2, 2013

One on One

yp_mike_wengerMike Wenger loved building things when he was a kid.

He built Lego structures and bike ramps and tennis-ball slingshots. In high school he made hand tools, a robotic arm and an electric motor.

Now, at 25, Wenger has turned his childhood explorations into a career as project manager at one of the city’s largest machining and fabrication plants, Springs Fabrication.

The Doherty High School graduate, who studied construction management at Colorado State University, worries now that local high schools have abandoned their woods and metals classes, meaning that young people don’t have the opportunity to make things with their hands.

Visualizing a project, and how the crew will build it, is his favorite part of the job. The loss of school programs is one reason Springs Fabrication gives tours of its plant to student groups, Wenger said, so they can see how metal products are made and, hopefully, be inspired into careers in manufacturing.

You have enjoyed working with your hands since you were a kid. What kind of things did you build?

When I was a kid, I used to build everything; Legos, bike ramps, a tennis-ball slingshot, etc. In middle school and high school, I took every metals class I could. In these classes, I made hand tools, a robotic arm, a simple electric motor, sheet metal boxes and many aluminum castings.

What made you choose construction management as a major in college?

I was drawn to construction management because I love seeing structures progress from blueprints to a finished functioning building. I really enjoyed my job framing houses in high school and I wanted to be a part of construction on a larger scale.

What is your favorite part of your job at Springs Fabrication?

The aspect of my job a Springs Fabrication I enjoy the most is reviewing drawings during the quoting stage and determining how we will fabricate each project. Nearly every project I quote teaches me something new about fabrication and machining practices. Another part of my job I love is seeing projects progress from drawings to processed raw materials, to sub-assemblies, to final finished products. It is very rewarding to see the finished product on the truck, ready for delivery.

There is a lot of talk these days about the manufacturing industry. How do you feel about the state of manufacturing in the city and state or country?

Unfortunately, in the last 10 years, it seems that manufacturing has been on the decline in this region. It saddens me very much to drive past empty manufacturing facilities with waist-high weeds growing through the parking lot.

Some seasoned professionals in manufacturing are nervous about their future workforce, wondering if young people are interested in manufacturing. What could be done to lure more young people to your profession?

Unfortunately, most, or all of the industrial technology, i.e. woods and metals classes, have been eliminated from local schools. It seems as though schools have traded their shop equipment for iPads. My shop teachers used to tell us every day how lucky we were to still have a metals and a woods class. At that time, the school I went to was the only school in the district that still had both.

Today, most young people are pressured into college, whereas a trade school, or apprenticeship, may better utilize their strengths. I don’t think very many high school students are aware of the many manufacturing careers available in their own backyard.

We need to bring industrial technology classes back into schools. It would also help young people to visit local manufacturing facilities to catch a glimpse of the industry. Springs Fabrication does a great job of hosting field trips for students, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts who likely were not previously aware of manufacturing careers.

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