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Career Education in Fourth Grade?

That's Not Too Early For A North Kansas City Manufacturer

Student at work during tour of Holland 1916
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Holland 1916 is a North Kansas City, Missouri, manufacturing company with a history that dates back to the earliest years of the 20th century. But it has not shied away from a new approach to recruiting employees and preparing the workforce of tomorrow.

The company regularly hosts fourth-graders at its Burlington Street headquarters to illustrate the real-world applications of math.

“Business is the primary consumer of what educators are producing — students,” CEO Mike Stradinger said. “So we need to be involved in the process, and we have for too long been silent.”

That epiphany came at Holland 1916, Stradinger said, when the company experienced problems with the quantity and quality of available workers.

“Manufacturing, like most businesses, is a people game,” Stradinger said, “and if we don’t have great people, we are not going to be a great company.”

Holland 1916’s initial education foray came about five years ago with high school students. But after feedback from teachers, the company decided to catch kids as early as possible. They landed on fourth-graders because that is when they learn division.

But partnering with education is not without its difficulties, Stradinger said, and that’s mainly because business operates at a very different pace.

“Our customers are constantly giving us feedback: we want it faster, we want it to do this, we want it to be less expensive,” Stradinger said.

But to educators, even annual changes can feel disruptive.

“And trying to get those two to work together,” he said. “You have to overcome that challenge.”

—Kansas City PBS is examining the issue of workforce development as part of its participation in the national American Graduate: Getting to Work project, an initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Follow #AmGradKCPT on Facebook and Twitter for local American Graduate content and #AmGrad to see content from across the United States.

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