HEBRON, Ky. — Their friends probably think manufacturing means working on an assembly line in a dark, dirty factory. But six rising juniors in Kenton County Schools now know differently — and this fall they will spread the word.

The students, who attend one of the district’s six Academies of Innovation & Technology, are part of a pilot program designed to get more high school students to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing.

The students spent a week at MAG, a machine tool manufacturer in Hebron, watching workers build machines that will be used to make aircraft parts, and learning about supply chains, quality control and software engineering.

“It’s really eye-opening to see how manufacturing has developed,” said Stephen Goins, 16, a student at Dixie Heights and the Engineering Academy.

When they return to class this fall, Stephen and his fellow ambassadors will meet with other students in hopes of persuading them to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing.

A Northern Kentucky Industrial Partnership study showed that there were 680 vacant advanced manufacturing jobs in Northern Kentucky; that number is expected to grow to 6,250 jobs over the next 10 years as older skilled workers retire.

“Our whole goal is how do we fill the manufacturing pipeline so we have the trained workers to keep our manufacturing operations going,” said Rick Jordan, chairman of the NKIP steering committee and vice president of LSI Graphic Solutions in Erlanger.

The study also found that high school students were not considering careers in manufacturing, and that students and parents had a negative view of manufacturing.

“People perceive manufacturing the way it was in the ‘50s or ‘60s,” said Edward Bisig, MAG’s vice president of human resources. “It’s the exact opposite; you go into our shop and it’s bright and it’s full of technology.”

Today, machines do most of the labor in the factories, Jordan said. What companies need are people who know how to build, operate and fix those machines.

Students spend part of the day at their home high school and the other half at the academy. In their senior year, students do apprenticeships, job shadows, project-based learning and internships.

The program is expected to grow to 400 students next year, said Terri Cox-Cruey, superintendent of Kenton County Schools.

“I think students and parents recognize the value of business and industry partnership,” she said.

“We’re not making them so they can run machines,” Jordan said. “We’re making them so they understand the jobs and amount of money to be made, the education needed.”

Almost 100 percent of students who graduate from Gateway’s advance manufacturing programs get jobs.

At MAG, skilled workers start at about $40,000 a year, Bisig said. The company will need new workers soon, because more than 50 percent of its workforce is over 50.