When Thor Industries Inc.’s Rick Schutt enters a school auditorium, he never has a prepared, canned speech in hand. Schutt, who signed on as director of community involvement for the Elkhart, Ind.-based manufacturer in August of 2017, delivers his message through a highly interactive format designed to generate excitement for the RV industry while also planting a seed to grow a future workforce.
Heading up Thor’s Learning, Engagement, Achievement and Performance (LEAP) initiative, Schutt is adamant that the Thor team — which includes senior training specialist Annisa Blosser and community outreach specialist Clarence Thomas — is intent on “working directly with students, not lecturing to them. The last thing we want to do is stand up in front of the kids and talk for half-hour.”
LEAP, which is an integral component of Thor’s overall community outreach initiative, provides fifth- and eighth-graders in Elkhart County with an instructive program that graphically demonstrates the wide-ranging opportunities available through a career in the RV industry.
“We first bring in a motorhome and a towable RV to the schools so the kids can see up close what the RV industry builds,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “That’s really the ‘wow factor’ and it sets the table for getting into the heart of the program.”
At the eighth-grade level, the LEAP team places students into an assembly line situation, giving them various job assignments while using Legos to assemble units. Schutt said it teaches the importance of teamwork while also stressing problem solving.
“They go through two builds. The first one is intentionally flawed, and their task is to figure out and fix the problems with how the line is set up and other factors that create inefficiencies,” he said. “We also go over LEAN process and how to improve the build.
“It’s pretty amazing how they drastically increase the number of units they assemble, and all they have is seven minutes. But it’s not just teaching them about working on the line. We also talk a lot about all the different jobs that are available, like sales, management and marketing.”
The reviews for LEAP, according to Schutt, have been overwhelmingly favorable.
“We distribute surveys to principals, teachers, students, and there’s a comment section for the kids to fill out,” he said. “We have a lot of students saying that they want to work for Thor, which is encouraging. The program really gives them more awareness about what kind of careers are available.
“Importantly, the schools jumped on board from the outset,” he added. “When we started the program, I went out and talked to administrators, and they were all eager to get involved. They even helped us set up a schedule for what schools we would visit.”
Accordingly, LEAP has experienced strong growth over the past year-and-a-half and is looking to serve even more schools in the future.
“Initially, we saw about 550 students,” Schutt stated. “This year, we’re on track to work with over 5,000 students by the end of May, which is when we wrap up. We’re very excited to reach that goal and, ultimately, our target is to work with 25,000 students over a five-year period.”