Hutchinson High School senior Mason Primus started his third hour of school Wednesday morning wrapping 50 packs of ink holders. If that sounds a bit more like a job than a class, it's by design.
Primus' independent study period is the current iteration of Tiger Manufacturing, a fledgling student-run company that makes real products for real customers. Its aim is to provide realistic work experience, build soft skills and business skills, and give students the chance to use welding, woodworking, machining and draft and design skills in a real-world application.
"I like being in the tech wing," said Primus. "It's a nice break throughout the day to be able to come and work on things. And it's nice to have the business relations aspect, talking to customers who want these projects."
That's why Primus signed up for the Tiger Manufacturing class this past spring. It had already taken shape over the past few years, which led to it becoming an offering in the high school's business and manufacturing TigerPaths for the 2019-20 school year. However, there weren't enough students signed up to get it off the ground as a full class offering. Those who wanted to participate not only needed sufficient classroom experience, but to be in good standing academically.
"There are definitely enough kids with the skills and ability for it," Primus said. "Word didn't get out quite enough."
"Whenever you have something new it takes a little buy-in time," said Daryl Lundin, one of the technical education teachers who helps lead TigerPath and direct Primus in his independent study. "We've got Mason going this year. Once people see what he profits from it as far as learning, it will hopefully get some more (students)."
Students signing up for 2020-21 classes this spring can select Tiger Manufacturing.
In the meantime, Primus has plenty to keep him busy for all three trimesters of the school year. In addition to the ink holders, Tiger Manufacturing also uses a laser engraving machine to create card holders for Stamp-n-Storage, a Hutchinson business. Tiger Manufacturing previously forged a partnership with the business, but Primus said this year there is a higher demand.
"We just sent 70 of them," he said, adding that he plans to create more inventory for when it is needed.
He's also been busy with other tasks such as building a desk for a secretary. And projects from the Hutchinson Economic Development Authority are in the pipeline, such as repairing a trailer, making a glass display case and building metal step stools. Primus has also been working on high-top bar tables for Bobbing Bobber Brewing Co. He dips his feet into the business end as well.
"Some of the metal things, I've just been pricing those out and helping get that situated so we can figure out how much we'll charge," Primus said.
He hopes his experience with Tiger Manufacturing will serve him in the future as he plans to study electrical engineering in college.
"Like any other business, you have to wear a lot of hats," Lundin said. "The bigger we get, the more you can specialize."
As Tiger Manufacturing grows in the future, the plan is to keep the school's woodshop, machine tool shop and design room busy with a larger variety of projects. Lundin said people occasionally reach out and offer one-time jobs, and with more students Tiger Manufacturing will be able to say "yes" more often.
"We don't want to get in competition with businesses," Lundin said. "It's more of the one-off things that regular businesses and people aren't going to bother another company with, typically."
The long-term vision for Tiger Manufacturing is for students to take on such roles as office manager, marketing manager, machinist, welder, engineer, production manager and maintenance engineer. Revenue generated by the company will be divided up three ways: paying for materials, equipment purchases and upgrades, and profit sharing for the student workers. Profit sharing would be pro-rated based on the number of hours students put into Tiger Manufacturing and would take the form of scholarships students can use after graduation.
“There are more and more school districts that want to do this," Lundin said. "It's just figuring out all the little things. It gives kids purpose to do stuff.”