NEOSHO, Mo. — Teens involved in a summer camp at Crowder College this week are learning the ins and outs of manufacturing while also gaining basic entrepreneurial skills.

This is the second year for Crowder College’s Camp AMPED, which stands for "Advanced Manufacturing Product Entrepreneurial Design." It’s part of a national program developed by Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, the foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association.

The weeklong camp, for girls and boys between the ages of 14 and 16, is meant to motivate the next generation to pursue careers as manufacturers, inventors and entrepreneurs in an effort to bridge the skills gap in the manufacturing industry. 

Studies project that the skilled labor shortage will rise over the next 10 years and if nothing changes, approximately 2 million manufacturing jobs will be left vacant, according to data by the Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.

Terry Clarkson, the advanced manufacturing instructor at Crowder College, and carpenter Robert Parker are working with seven teens to help train them for the 21st-century workforce through hands-on experience. The group has visited local manufacturing operations to see the design steps from start to finish and will be building their own projects out of wood to present to their families on Friday.

“We went to the sawmill, Missouri Walnut in Neosho, which is a leading walnut producer in the U.S.,” Clarkson said. “We took a tour of the sawmill and how they produce that lumber, kiln it and dry it out. Yesterday (Tuesday), we went out to Twin Oaks Custom Cabinets. We want to keep it local because we have all of these businesses in town, so why not use them?”

Clarkson said the students are not just learning how to build a product from scratch — they’re also grasping how to sell a product and understanding the steps associated with its creation. Students will be working throughout the week to design, build and pitch their own projects made of wood.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to show the kids that you may think you’re just going out and buying a product, but there are a lot of things that go into that process,” he said. “There are time studies, materials and you want to provide a product that the consumer can buy for a cost that they’re willing to pay.”

Gavin Hobart, 16, a homeschooled student in Neosho, decided to pursue the camp for a second year. He noted how he had a great experience and learned a lot about business last year and wanted to come back to learn more.

“We’ve learned a lot about the opportunities that are out there in the technology and engineering realm,” he said. “I work part time at my grandfather’s small-engine-repair workshop, and it’s a really great trade. It’s in my interest area, so I plan on taking over the business eventually.”

Alicia Peralez, a 15-year-old Neosho Alternative High School student, said she thought the camp would be a good opportunity to learn about hands-on curriculum and is constructing a wooden jewelry box as her project.

“My grandpa has a bunch of tools in his shop, and he always makes things, but I’ve been too young to help,” Peralez said. “Now that I can actually start doing that type of stuff, it really interests me. I figured I could learn from this and continue learning from Grandpa after.”

Jeffrey Jones, an artist who owns The Clay Cup — A Coffee Pottery in Neosho, was the guest speaker for Camp AMPED on Wednesday. He talked about his entrepreneurial experiences that he’s learned over the years. Jones, who’s been a working artist for more than three decades, encouraged the students to take risks, and to look for opportunities to develop.

“Everything that I do is a risk that I took,” he said. “You make the most progress when you’re the most nervous about what it is that you’re doing because it’s like you’re afraid of failing. Success is relative because what one entrepreneur would call success may not be my definition of it. I want them to understand that development takes effort and time, which is why I’m in the spot that I’m in 35 years later.”

Peralez said she really enjoyed Jones’ advice because she’s interested in pursuing art and hearing tips from a real-life entrepreneur is truly eye-opening.

“It’s helpful because these speakers compare the things that they’ve done and then compare it to how it was before our time,” she said.

Business pursuits

Jeffrey Jones and his wife, Donna, own The Clay Cup — A Coffee Pottery at 114 N. Wood St. in Neosho. They started the coffee and pottery shop in 2017. They recently purchased a church building located across the street and are renovating it as a music and event center. They’re renaming the building Northwood Arts & Event. For more information on Jones and his business, visit https://the-clay-cup-a-coffee-pottery.business.site.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.