ALDEN, N.Y. — There's the hum from grinding tools, sparks and snaps from welding equipment and a lot of hustle and bustle at Bulldog Manufacturing — a student-run business at Alden High School.
The students make a number of different items, from welded metal benches to signs and awards to custom engraved glassware.
Bulldog Manufacturing is both a class and a club. It's part of the Future Business Leaders of America Program, which allows students and teachers to deal with finances, such as taxes and sales reports.
Students must complete certain prerequisites, apply and interview for a spot in the program.
Teacher Arthur Eggink says students are forced out of their comfort zones and get a taste of the real business world — customers, deadlines, sales calls, and stress.
"I grade it on professionalism and how they work with each other, their work ethic and their reflections. How do they reflect on what they have done well and what they need to improve upon," Eggink said.
But perfect grades aren't the main focus.
"I'd rather them go through,redo. Retry. Push themselves a little further. Take some extra time. Use a bit more material. Get it done right," Eggink said.
The program combines multiple career pathways, like sales, business and product and graphic design.
There's a focus on creativity, trying new things, and making mistakes in a safe learning environment...then learning from those mistakes.
"You're not told what to do, and it's not just memorization. You learn by figuring out and doing it yourself," said junior Cheyanne Whitmer.
"Gone are the days where you just look to the back of the book and there are the answers," said Allen Turton IV, the school's work-based learning coordinator.
Buffalo Niagara Manufacturing Alliance member Jon Sieminski donated equipment to the school and helped to get the program off the ground.
He says after years of industrial arts programs fading away, the need for these kinds of classes and the skilled workers they breed is skyrocketing.
"We're in a shortage right now in Western New York. There's probably 1500 manufacturing jobs available today. With the retirement of baby boomers in the next four or five years, it's going to be up over 10,000," Sieminski said.
The program just started in July, but there's been so much interest that school leaders are already talking about doubling the class size and adding more work space for next year.
In just a few short months, Bulldog Manufacturing is already turning a profit, which the students are reinvesting in the business.