Appealing to the Future Manufacturing Workforce

March 8, 2007

Share Like Tweet Add Email

Without question, fewer young people are interested in pursuing a professional future in manufacturing than in the past. How does industry appeal to this slipping-away future workforce, particularly high school students? Here are some ways in which hands-on experience is being utilized to engage these young students.

High school graduates are taking more challenging courses and earning higher grades during high school, according to recent National Assessment Governing Board (NAEP) reports. Unfortunately, these efforts appear to have thus far failed to translate to higher achievement scores. In fact, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) president John Engler recently wrote, "the average 12-grade reading score was the lowest since 1992, and less than one-quarter of twelfth-graders scored at or above the proficient level in math."

These scores echo the critical "skills gap" manufacturers face in the workplace — an unprecedented and unmet demand for workers who command any level of manufacturing know-how, according to Engler, who further wrote the following:

Industry is an end user of our education system, and that system's students simply are not making the grade. The implications are grave for the entire economy. Manufacturing is the critical link between innovation, the economy and our quality of life, generating nearly 60 percent of private sector research and development in America. Manufacturers are the engine of the American economy, driving not only innovation, but also creating countless jobs and generating the tax dollars for government services.

In a modern manufacturing facility, employees are more likely to calibrate with a computer than pound something with a hammer. Industry needs young people who can adapt to the rapidly changing, high-tech workplace, employees who at the very least demonstrate a proven ability to read, write, do math and think analytically.

While higher grades in formal education, particularly in math and sciences, are a must for the future of the industrial workforce, this clearly goes beyond "book learning." How does industry appeal to and sway, in particular, high school students who are renowned for often being tech savvy yet dispassionate for such difficult and (in-their-minds) "uninteresting" subjects? In addition to classroom studies, what is required is hands-on experience for at least a taste. Enable them to design robots, to see machines work, to really think about how the things they depend on daily — their iPods, for instance — are conceived, produced and function.

The following are some items, from the past week or so only, that demonstrate commendable such efforts:

For instance, R.W. Screw Co., working with the Stark County College Prep Consortium, recently invited teams from three high schools to solve a problem with one of the company's production machines. The problem, according to The Canton Repository: 44-millimeter shell casings for the military coming out of the machine were either falling back into the machine or being damaged by the apparatus designed to carry the parts away. The teams were given the chance to study the machine and talk with R.W. experts. They then went back to their respective schools, "put their heads together and came up with solutions."

This is great. Not only do the students have the opportunity for a field trip to try something new outside of the classroom, the business had a chance to introduce, perhaps for the first time, young people — potential future manufacturers and/or machinists of tomorrow — to this industry of creativity and ingenuity. (On top of that, maybe, just maybe, one of the suggested solutions helped fix the machine problem.) Last week, teams from the three high schools gave high-tech multimedia presentations on their processes and showed off their solutions.

Then there is the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA), which this spring will begin a new program called "Makin' It In Michigan" that will increase the educational opportunities for students in the state's advanced manufacturing industry, recently reported. The program will "help set the record straight on the future of manufacturing and what manufacturing jobs entail" through presentations, advanced manufacturing facility tours, a manufacturing careers Web site, informational brochures and a bi-annual e-newsletter which will be sent to math, science, technology and career teachers and guidance counselors.

According to the MMA:

Along with providing a facility tour outline and guidance for host sites, MMA will also act as a careers-in-manufacturing facilitator to kick-off and wrap-up the tours. We will also recruit and select manufacturing facilities that best represent advanced manufacturing to participate in this process. For schools that cannot attend facility tours, alternative delivery methods will be made available.

Further, at the University of Kentucky, $1 million from Toyota recently helped fund the Institute of Research for Technology Development. The automaker on Monday presented the school with a $1 million check toward the new manufacturing institute aimed at transforming students into inventors. The Institute of Research for Technology Development largely expands on the work the automobile company and university have been doing together for years — letting the company define the problems, and using academia to help brainstorm the answers.

The institute, which qualifies for $1 million in matching funds under a state research program, will include labs that examine laser diagnostics, paint inspections, computational fluid dynamics, conceptual design and nanomaterial synthesis, according to The Associated Press. There will also be a prototype testing unit for coating automobile surfaces.

As for formal education in schools, an increasing number of students seeking job training after high school in El Paso, Texas, for one, isn't just resulting in a boom in university enrollment, according to The El Paso Times, as "area trade and technical schools are also seeing their student rosters blossom as more El Pasoans choose careers that require certification rather than a traditional degree," the paper reported this week.

"At [Western Technical College] we are more focused on producing quality graduates for our employer market than we are just enrollment numbers, but as of Jan. 31, 2007, we have a total enrollment of 920 students compared to 739 students at the same time in 2006," Randy Kuykendall, CEO of Western Technical College, said in an e-mail.

He said this was an increase of 24 percent year over year, and an additional 10 percent growth is expected between 2007 and 2008.

If we are going to inspire enough young people to pursue careers in engineering in the coming decades, "we have to show our kids how fascinating math and science can be," Glen Pearson, president of the SME Education Foundation, recently said at The same, we think, is true for the future manufacturing workforce.

It will, of course, take more than education and even novel experience at a young age to inspire and develop this future workforce to stay competitive.

Earlier: Grooming Future Engineers/Scientists — While In Grades K-12

Share Like Tweet Add Email


comments powered by Disqus