Industry Market Trends

Helping Skilled Labor with High School Awareness

Apr 02, 2013

Addressing the skilled labor gap can start with high school education efforts, but keeping students engaged can be a challenge. As shop classes fade out of the core curriculum, they are being replaced with different incentives for students, ranging from manufacturing training classes during visits to facilities to high-tech real-world training in classroom settings.

Credit: David Castillo Dominici at Credit: David Castillo Dominici at

There is a challenge to find skilled workers at numerous locations across the country. In Minnesota, shop classes in machining, welding, and other manufacturing trades are on the decline in the state, according to Minnesota Public Radio news. The loss of such educational opportunities could have severe consequences for industry, as students may go into other fields simply because of the lack of exposure.

But as shop classes die out, other methods of raising industry awareness among students continue to emerge. MPR notes that the state's education commissioner is currently working with Minnesota state colleges and universities to better align high school student goals with workforce needs and allow students to earn college credits before they leave high school - a cost-effective incentive for students.

The effort to raise manufacturing awareness is crucial for Minnesota, a manufacturing-intensive state where the average manufacturing salary is $56,000.

In neighboring Wisconsin, one manufacturing awareness initiative this month involved a panel of professionals who visited Elkorn Area High School and spoke to 180 students about career paths in high-tech manufacturing. The panel discussion, followed by facility tours, highlighted the importance of real-work experience, on-the-job training, and exploring the art and science of certain skills, such as machining. The Wisconsin panel visit was part of an effort to bring together businesses, academia, and the area manufacturing sector to encourage the next generation of manufacturers and dispel stigmas about the industry.

Industry awareness efforts are also underway in Tennessee, where 28 students from state high schools took part in a lean manufacturing training class in February. The event was hosted by the University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services, in partnership with the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance. Students experienced a real-life mass production scenario when they were given 15 minutes to "assemble, test, and ship" as many products as they could, according to the university. Such an effort helped students get a better sense of a manufacturing setting.

Efforts to get students involved in manufacturing extend beyond tours and manufacturing expert visits. CNN reports that even though shop classes are a high school trend of the past, other "high-tech" classroom opportunities are available for students. It notes how students at Analy High School in Sebastopol, Calif., are learning to create LED-lit shoes with built-in GPS and other high-tech creations in a new 3,200-square-foot building on campus.

Manufacturers are getting involved in raising awareness with high-tech donations. In March, several local businesses in Oregon, Ohio, collaborated to facilitate the purchase of a Haas VF-1 metal cutting machine for Clay High School's new CNC Milling Center, Press Publications reported.

"With this new piece of equipment, our seniors will have the opportunity to operate CNC equipment and help grow any local manufacturing facility," said Steve Bialorucki, director of career, technical and adult education at Oregon city schools. "Without the assistance of this core group of businesses Clay students would not have this outstanding opportunity."

What do you think is the best method to raise industry awareness among high school students? Let us know in the comments section below.