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Tamara Smith graduated from Virginia Tech in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering and landed a job as a process engineer at Williamsburg manufacturer Printpack.
Before that, she was exploring career options as a student at Jamestown High School – just like the students who visited her workplace Oct. 2 for the third annual Manufacturing Day.
“There is a lot of pressure to figure out what to do with your life,” Smith said. “I want to ensure them there are opportunities for them and they can find their place in manufacturing.”
The goal of Manufacturing Day is to introduce students to the variety of career opportunities in the manufacturing industry by showing them what happens at the manufacturing plants in their own backyard.
Eighty-six students from Jamestown, Lafayette and Warhill high schools visited manufacturers Printpack, Ball Corporation, Owens-Illinois, Coresix Precision Glass, Walmart Distribution Center and Anheuser-Busch, which are all located in the Historic Triangle.
“They have no idea this is back here,” said David Rieger, a thermaforming manager at Printpack.
Rieger, Smith and their colleagues gave Jamestown students a tour of the Printpack facility, which makes rigid plastic containers for food products. The Printpack facility in Williamsburg produces packaging for Del Monte, Smucker’s and more, but one of its biggest clients is Mott’s — Printpack makes more than 5 million cups per day for Mott’s applesauce.
Printpack products are easy to spot, Rieger said. Each container is marked with a small Printpack swirl logo, called a “bug.”
“I never would have thought that all the cups around the country were made in my city,” Jamestown junior Cameron Nottingham said.
Rieger taught history at Jamestown before starting at Printpack. He said experiences like manufacturing tours help students challenge their preconceptions about the industry.
“When you’re a kid, you don’t know what’s manufacturing,” Rieger said. “I thought manufacturing was the assembly line for Ford.”
Smith said all Printpack employees in Williamsburg have high school diplomas, with some employees starting their Printpack careers right out of school. She added that Printpack’s employees have a variety of college degrees, ranging from engineering to business and marketing.
After touring the building, some students said they would be interested in seeing how other products are made. Paris Newell, a senior at Jamestown, said the tour expanded his perspective on manufacturing careers.
“There are other companies and job opportunities you never really thought you could work,” Newell said.
Smith, who interned at Printpack while studying at Virginia Tech, said guidance counselors and teachers are great resources for students who want to learn more about manufacturing careers.
“It’s nice to talk about opportunities in manufacturing and the paths they can take,” Smith said.