The equation has changed in the past half-century. Technical progress eliminates some of the factory jobs, and employer preferences for internships eliminates some of the job seekers.
Local hiring experts say the outlook for temporary summer jobs at factories — an important source of income for students in the past — isn't very promising because many of the positions now require technical skills someone in school wouldn't have, and factory automation has reduced the number of workers needed.There are a few companies that continue the tradition of summer employment as a variation on offering scholarships to the children of employees.
"Years ago, it was very commonplace to bring on the sons and daughters of regular employees for summer jobs. But that summer-help job category doesn't really exist anymore in manufacturing," said Jim Golembeski, director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay.
The Georgia-Pacific Corp. paper mill in Green Bay used to hire hundreds of students for the summer, as did other mills and factories in the Fox Valley.
"I had some of my kids work there. It was a great opportunity for them," said Georgia-Pacific spokesman Michael Kawleski.
Now, the Green Bay mill has about half the number of employees it had a decade ago. The machines are bigger and more efficient.
Even with fewer people, the mill can produce as much or more than it previously did, Kawleski said.
Still, the summer job tradition continues at manufacturers like Exacto Spring Corp. in Grafton, which hires the children of employees for summer jobs such as work in the shipping department.Those internships, paid or otherwise, take on greater salience these days.
Exacto makes springs used in everything from medical devices to military helicopters. The company has made springs for a prosthetic hand strong enough to lift a chair yet gentle enough to hold an egg.
Students employed for the summer may spend time learning about engineering and product development, along with their jobs in the shop washing and boxing parts.
"We are not bringing the summer help in to run machines. We get caught up on work that's more labor intensive, and there are a lot of people on vacation, so this fills in the gaps," said Exacto President Greg Heitz.
"We try to give opportunities to the kids of our employees, or people somehow connected to Exacto. That is always number one," Heitz said.
The students also get to work with their peers.
"We try to put them all together so that we don't have an 18-year-old hanging out with a 55-year-old," Heitz said.
At Wagner Companies, a Milwaukee manufacturer of light fixtures, hand rails and metal products, children of employees or their relatives also get first crack at summer jobs, CEO Bob Wagner said.
"We have done it for years, and it has worked out very well," said Wagner, who as a youth spent his summers in various jobs at the company.
"Some of the (summer employees) have come to be with us much longer," he said.
Wagner's summer employees must complete a workplace safety program, the same as other new hires, and there's little tolerance for poor behavior such as being late for work.
"Two strikes and they're in trouble....There are other people who are waiting in line for jobs," Wagner said.
Some of the summertime work is in the office, and some of it is outdoor maintenance. "You may get some paint on your hands," Wagner said.
Briggs & Stratton Co., the Wauwatosa manufacturer of gasoline engines and outdoor power products, hires dozens of students as summer interns. They're placed in jobs throughout the company, not only in their field of study but sometimes in areas that will broaden their experiences.
Briggs spends a lot of time nurturing its summer interns, and sometimes it offers them jobs after they graduate from college.
"We see a great value in adding them to our workforce whenever possible," Briggs spokeswoman Laura Timm said.
A short stint at a manufacturing plant can be a way to sharpen your workplace skills and enhance your chances at getting permanent employment. But for college students, it's not a substitute for an internship in the field of their studies.True enough. Learning that there are consequences to not showing up, and that working well with others isn't just for grade school, also matter.
[Marquette business professor Douglas] Fisher suggests that college students get at least two internships.
"I can tell you, quite frankly, that companies that come to hire our (Marquette graduates) will put the resumes in two piles — those with internships and those without. They will be equally polite to both groups, but only one gets their attention.
"It's a lesson these kids have to learn," Fisher said.