More than 120 high school students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, visited 13 different manufacturing companies Friday as part of a career and technical education program.

Pima County Youth Career Connects trains Southern Arizona’s high school students in industrial technology. It sends them to two years of school at Pima Community College and sets them up with job training, according to Gerri Brunson, a coordinator for Arizona @ Work, the workforce solutions division of Pima County.

The program is a partnership between Arizona @ Work, Joint Technical Education District, Pima Community College, Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners and the Sunnyside and Tucson Unified school districts.

The tours were intended to expose students to different types of jobs in manufacturing, Brunson said.

“It’s going to help them really get insight and understand what that career might look like on the inside,” she said.

At Industrial Tool, Die and Engineering Inc. near South Alvernon Way and Interstate 10, Steve Richards, the company’s director of quality, led a group of seven students from Desert View High School.

Jesus Gil, an alumnus of Desert View and the Youth Career Connects program, and employee of the company, explained the workings of an electric discharge machine.

Gil graduated from Desert View in 2013 and interned at the company through the program before being hired on as a full-time employee.

“I think I found what I want,” he said of precision manufacturing.

Gil is one of eight former interns that Industrial, Tool, Die and Engineering, Inc. has hired, said Don Theriault, the company’s president and spokesman for the Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners, a coalition of more than 30 industry groups.

The manufacturing industry has not done a great job of training new talent in the past 25 years or so, he said. The manufacturing partnership wants to change that by being more involved in high school programs.

“Industry has to do a better job helping academia,” he said.

Iridian Monge, 16, was one of the students touring the company. The sophomore is currently enrolled in a drafting class, which typically precedes the precision manufacturing class.

“It’s interesting how much goes into a part,” she said after the tour.

Ultimately, Monge said she wants to be an aeronautical engineer and possibly work for the NASA. But she plans on starting out with precision manufacturing.

There aren’t too many other female students pursuing this career, she said.

Desarae Stephens, 19, is another former intern and Desert View graduate who was hired at Industrial, Tool, Die and Engineering, Inc. She said she sometimes gets confused looks from male students in her college classes.

Her advice to students like Monge: “Don’t give in to the intimidation.”

Stephens said she wants to encourage more women to pursue precision manufacturing.

“Girls are just as good, if not better,” she said.

Contact reporter Yoohyun Jung at 520-573-4243 or On Twitter: @yoohyun_jung