Dave Clarke, manufacturing director at a Kulpsville company, tried to capture the attention of teenagers as they walked through a hallway of Souderdon Area High School, which was lined with tables of other manufacturers trying to do the same.
Clarke came to Montgomery County's second annual ManuFest on Saturday because his company, which develops products for such industries as aerospace, oil fields, and solar, wants to develop talent early and put manufacturing on the radar of high school students.
"Kids haven't seen it as sexy," said Clarke, who works at Greene, Tweed & Co. "What we've seen is, over the past few years we've struggled to get the skills we need out of the workforce."
Representatives from more than 30 companies asked area students and their parents to give manufacturing a chance at the county's ManuFest. More than 350 students and parents registered this year, up from about 150 students last year.
Manufacturers and county officials are trying to change students' and parents' perceptions about manufacturing jobs with more positions becoming available as longtime workers retire and companies' needs evolve.
"It used to be if you didn't get good grades in school, you went into manufacturing," said Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. "It's a mind-set we have to change."
The county has more manufacturing jobs than any other in Pennsylvania, Shapiro said.
When asked how many in the high school auditorium want to go into manufacturing, only a few students raised their hands. Others were there out of curiosity.
Andy Celinskis, 14, wanted to come to ManuFest because he is interested in engineering and math. The Souderton freshman brought his mother.
"I said, 'If you want to go, let's go,' " said Melinda Celinskis. "It's great to get a head start."
One of the first questions at the special session for parents and teachers came from a mother who asked a panel of company representatives whether it was true that manufacturing jobs were on their way out.
In response, the panelists whipped out PowerPoint slides to debunk what they called myths about the business: Manufacturing jobs are mind-numbing, dangerous, do not pay well, get shipped overseas, and should be a last resort.
They asked parents not to discourage their children from choosing manufacturing jobs.
"A lot of people still have that image of those old, dirty factories," said Marisol Lezcano, executive director of the county's workforce investment board and deputy director of commerce for the county.
The companies stressed new, high-tech manufacturing jobs. IMET Corp. in Southampton drew students in with a robotic cat. K'NEX Brands, based in Hatfield, brought a toy Ferris wheel for its table.
The North Montco Technical Career Center brought a virtual welding machine used to teach.
At a breakout session, several representatives aimed to open horizons in seven-minute pitches. They reminded students that their companies need to fill positions in various disciplines, including human resources, management, and graphic design.
"Manufacturing has stayed relatively consistent, but the jobs have changed," said Kenneth Krauss, president and chief operating officer at U.S. Axle Inc., a Pottstown company with 65 employees.
"All I ask is that you keep your options open."