Axton (left) and Marcus Hynek, who live on a dairy farm near Eleva, Wis., work on projects for Cardinal Manufacturing. The business is run by Eleva-Strum High School students during the last two periods of the school day.PHTOO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Axton (left) and Marcus Hynek, who live on a dairy farm near Eleva, Wis., work on projects for Cardinal Manufacturing. The business is run by Eleva-Strum High School students during the last two periods of the school day.
STRUM, Wis. - As farm kids, Marcus and Axton Hynek learned how to make repairs. Marcus has fixed everything from stalls and mats to corrals and tractors.
"I had always fixed stuff on the farm," Marcus said.
The brothers are two of many students who can hone their machining skills at Eleva-Strum High School in Strum, Wis. But their work is for more than a grade in a class. They are employees of Cardinal Manufacturing, a machining company owned by the school and run by the technology education teacher, Craig Cegielski.
"It's just like a real business," said Cegielski, who is in his 10th year teaching at Eleva-Strum High School, a school that averages about 40 students in each graduating class.
There are 15 student employees, including 12 machinists and welders. There are also three office jobs: one production manager, who makes sure products and materials are ordered so the student employees can productively keep working; one marketing manager, who handles the media, an annual open house and other ways to get the company's name out; and an office manager, who handles the payroll and the rest of the financial aspect of the business.
Students employed by the business have to go through an interview process each year, be a junior or a senior and must have prerequisites classes of Metal Working I and II. Cardinal Manufacturing is a two-credit class and takes up the last two periods of the school's eight-period day.
Last year, Cardinal Manufacturing made $70,000, which all goes back into the business. Between $1,000 and $2,000 is paid back to each student at the end of the year as their compensation for working for the company. This year, Cegielski expects the company to make over $100,000. Every year, Cardinal Manufacturing handles many projects from about 20 regular clients and about 100 walk-in clients.
Cegielski is the one who brought this company to life. Ten years ago, when he started teaching at the school, the tech ed program didn't have much for equipment and had an old run down garage to do projects.
"The building was here, but that's it," he said.
In his past teaching job, he had built a similar company and wanted to do it again for Eleva-Strum. During his first two years, Cegielski spent his time teaching students the basics of what they would need to know in order to become employees of this school-based company. A large amount of time was also spent fixing up the school's 10,000 square-foot work space and finding adequate equipment for student employees to use to complete projects.
"We started very minimally," Cegielski said. "It was little $20 jobs here and there. We would fix a hole or a trailer."
Although finding clients was difficult at first, Cegielski and the students slowly built up a network of partners.
"It's been little by little," Cegielski said. "Now that they know us, we have lots of jobs to do and industry partners will give us their old equipment."
Cardinal Manufacturing now has had over $500,000 in sponsorship. It also has volunteers, especially retired people, who come in to the school to help give assistance, fix equipment when it breaks down or help remodel the work space.
"We have a lot of community support," Cegielski said.
Part of that reason is that the businesses in the community will eventually hire the student employees. Almost all students who are a part of Cardinal Manufacturing will graduate and go on to higher education - many will go to the local technical colleges while a handful go on to universities for the engineering route.
"These students are better prepared and more trained in," Cegielski said. "This is a good start to help them choose their career."
Although Cegielski makes sure his students know how to perform their job with the equipment, he also wants them to know how to act in a professional setting.
"It lets us talk about professionalism, shaking hands and how we represent a business," Cegielski said. "It (Cardinal Manufacturing) gives them much better experiences. It's just like a real job. There are real deadlines and real customers."
Although teaching these employability skills can be challenging at times, Cegielski thinks it's important and continually pushes his students to do better.
"If you give them high expectations, they'll perform," Cegielski said. "We get so much out of these guys because they have to get it done. If it means staying late we'll do that and get it done."
The Hyneks, whose parents milk 66 cows near Eleva, Wis., both said they have enjoyed their time as employees of Cardinal Manufacturing. Axton, who is a junior, is in his first year of employment with the company. He likes the challenge of being a machinist.
"You have to get into a rhythm and make sure all the measurements, pieces and materials go together," Axton said.
Although he still has one more year of high school, Axton is already looking towards the future. His time at Cardinal Manufacturing could help him find a job as a machinist after college. Or he might also want to be a crop farmer.
Marcus, a senior, is set on attending Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, Wis., so he can get a job after college as a machinist. His two years working for Cardinal Manufacturing has helped him gain many skills, especially job priorities.
"You have to take care of your job yourself," Marcus said. "If you make a mistake, you have to fix it."
Cegielski feels the program has been successful in teaching the Hyneks and many other students. The information about creating this type of program at other schools is in high demand. Cegielski is called and emailed daily about how Cardinal Manufacturing works. He also received a $20,000 grant from the state to create a streamlined way for other schools to get this information. This includes a link on their website,
Cegielski and his student employees have also traveled to many states across the country to share their experience and give insight to how to build a program. However, Cegielski reminds others that it has taken awhile to build up Cardinal Manufacturing.
"We didn't get here overnight. It's 10 years of work," Cegielski said. "You start small, work hard, grow and move in the right direction."
It's all for the sake of the students and fulfilling the company's motto, "Filling the skills gap one student at a time."