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How Can We Attract Youth to Manufacturing Careers?

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If we want to attract today's youth to manufacturing careers, we need to change their perceptions about what the manufacturing industry is like and show them what great career opportunities exist in the industry. If more people would watch TV programs such as How it's Made and Made in America, they would soon realize that manufacturing has changed for the better -- it's cleaner and higher tech compared to what it was a generation or two ago.

In a blog article, Derek Singleton, ERP Analyst for Software Advice, wrote, "This means reacquainting youth with the process of designing and building products from an early age -- and then providing the creative freedom to build those things on their terms." He shared two examples from industry and suggested a third:

  1. Manufacturing summer camps: A recent New York Times article highlighted an innovative summer camp, called Gadget Camp, where teenagers learn how to build things from concept to creation. Attendees are required to design a product through computer-aided design (CAD) technology and oversee the design to completion.
  2. Gamification of manufacturing Gamification is a hot topic in many aspects of business at the moment -- one driven by the idea that adding gaming elements to non-gaming activities encourages action and participation. It's a movement that seeks to capitalize on our youth's obsession with video games as well as our competitive nature. According to Diana Miller and Simon Jacobson's recent Gartner First Thing Monday Morning newsletter, Invensys has been using 3D gaming technology to teach new hires how to operate oil refinery equipment for the past few years. In the same vein, Siemens recently released Plantville, a program designed to teach manufacturing processes and technologies to young people and new hires.
  3. Restore shop classes to our high schools: The elimination of these courses from our school systems has inevitably had a negative impact on the way we view making a living with our hands. We can all learn from building something with our hands because it teaches us a different way to think. And more importantly, hands-on learning through shop classes helps young people move an idea from concept to creation - which is useful regardless of one's future occupation.

The good news is that more than one non-profit organization has recognized the need to introduce the opportunities of engineering and manufacturing careers to middle school age youth because by high school, students may already be on a different career track. The benefits of summer camps for middle school youth is why the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) sponsored the Gadget Camp mentioned above. FMA sponsors the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation (NBT) whose mission is to nurture the tinkering spirit.

NBT and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) have partnered together to launch a unique summer camp program that combines elements of manufacturing and entrepreneurship -- how things are made and how businesses develop. The summer camp will eventually develop into a national program with as many as 300 locations across the United States.

FMA also offers grants for manufacturing summer camps at numerous locations across the country. Each camp is aimed at changing the image of manufacturing for youths. Through partnerships with nonprofit organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, FMA provides guidelines on the basic structure of how a camp should be conducted. The organizations then use their community resources to develop the camps based on local manufacturing needs.

The camps provide a positive hands-on experience so young people will consider manufacturing as a career option. They target youths at the critical level of early secondary education, exposing them to math, science and engineering principles, and giving them opportunities to see the technology being used in industry and the high level of skills that will be required from the workforce.

Campers design and build a product experiencing the start to finish satisfaction of creating something they can show off with pride. Throughout the process, they learn how to do CAD design and operate various kinds of manufacturing machinery under the close supervision of expert manufacturing trainers.

They also tour local manufacturing facilities learning what kinds of jobs exist, what skills and training are required, and how those businesses developed. They have the opportunity to hear directly from local manufacturing company owners how they started their businesses, applying basic entrepreneurship principles to understand how a single product idea becomes a business.

Another non-profit organization with similar goals is Project Lead The Way® (PLTW). The list of PLTW sponsors includes such companies as: BAE Systems, Biogen Idec, Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, General Atomics, Intel, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm, Solar Turbines. Non-profit sponsors include the Girard Foundation, the McCarthy Foundation, and TechAmerica (formerly AeA).

PLTW has been working since 1997 to promote pre-engineering courses for middle and high school students. PLTW forms partnerships with public schools, higher education institutions, and the private sector to increase the quantity and quality of engineers and engineering technologists graduating from our educational system. The PLTW curriculum was first introduced to 12 New York State high schools in the 1997-98 school years. A year later, PLTW field-tested its four unit Middle School Program in three middle schools. Today, the programs are offered in over 1,300 schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation is one of the major funders of Project Lead the Way® and sponsors a week long day camp for 6th-8th graders, called Gateway Academy, which is a project based, hands-on curriculum designed by PLTW to introduce middle school students to the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering and math. Campers work together in a fun, exciting environment using leading-edge technologies to sample such disciplines as robotics, aeronautics and eco-design. They brainstorm ideas, solve problems and build bridges, race cars and other working models. Participation in a Gateway Academy prepares students for the middle school Gateway to Technology pre-engineering curriculum. The PLTW Middle School program is called Gateway To Technology, consisting of nine-week, stand-alone units, which can be implemented in grades six through eight, as determined by each school. The curriculum exposes students to a broad overview of the field of technology. The units are:

• Design and Modeling
• The Magic of Electrons
• The Science of Technology
• Automation and Robotics
• Flight and Space

SME also sponsors the "Manufacturing is Cool" award winning, interactive website, which challenges and engages students in basic engineering and science principles and provides interesting and useful educational resources for teachers. This fun and information rich website was recently "re-engineered" (updated) and marketed around the country. SME has received positive feedback from teachers, parents, and students about its usefulness. This website is a good start towards fulfilling the "Gamification of manufacturing" mentioned by Mr. Singleton.

There is also good news with regard to Mr. Singleton's suggestion of restoring shop classes to schools. States are starting to add shop classes back into the curriculum. During his terms as California's governor from 2003-2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger identified workforce skills, referred to as Career Technical Education (CTE), as a priority for California. The passage of the education bond in 2006 provided $500 million for CTE initially, and subsequent budgets have continued to fund the program. The State plan was approved by the California State Board of Education on March 12, 2008 and approved by the U.S. Department of Education on July 1, 2008. The CTE is delivered primarily through K-12/adult education programs and community college programs. The Career Technical Education includes the following:

K-12/Adult Programs:

• Elementary school awareness and middle school introductory CTE programs
• High school CTE, offered through 1,165 high schools in single courses, in course sequences or through over 300 integrated "learning communities"
• ROCPs offering career pathways and programs through 74 ROCPs
• Adult education offered through 361 adult schools and over 1,000 sites
• Apprenticeship offered through over 200 apprenticeship program and adult schools

Community College

• Occupational programs offered at all 109 colleges, leading to certificates, associate degrees, and transfer to four-year universities
• Noncredit instruction for short-term CTE programs offered by 58 colleges
• Apprenticeship offering over 160 apprenticeship programs at 39 colleges
• Middle College High Schools (13) and Early College High Schools (19)
• Tech Prep programs delivered through 80 Tech Prep "consortia," comprising 109 colleges and their feeder high schools
• Economic and Workforce Development Program activities implemented through 115 "regional delivery centers" and 10 initiatives in emerging industries
• Contract education provided to organizations for their employees

This is a good start, but we have a long way to go if we want to have enough skilled workers to replace the "baby boomers" as they retire over the next 20 years. Perhaps when more young people have exposure to the various career opportunities in manufacturing and realize that manufacturing careers pay 25-50 percent higher than non-manufacturing jobs, they will choose to be part of modern manufacturing.