Mobile Centers Shine Positive Light on Manufacturing

Rather than waiting for people to overcome negativity, Mr. Kurtz is choosing to inspire school children with a new idea.

For many years, it has been my belief that the biggest reason there is a skilled labor shortage is because of the negative perception that manufacturing jobs have in the minds of the general public. These beliefs are outdated and untrue. Manufacturing jobs need a PR makeover, ASAP.

It’s refreshing to see that others are becoming promoters of manufacturing jobs for the next generation of machinists. On a national level, Mike Rowe from TV’s “Dirty Jobs” is a national voice for the young blue-collar talent. However, he is only one voice and cannot shift the negative stigma of manufacturing or STEM jobs alone.

At the local level, some manufacturer’s associations and community colleges are attempting to get the word out to young people and their parents about career opportunities in the skilled trades’ arena. But more still needs to be done.

One savvy entrepreneur thinks there are ways to introduce and educate millennials to today’s manufacturing and STEM careers, which use cutting edge technology, have clean room settings and major job potential. Harry Kurtz, president of Triune Specialty Trailers, Madison Heights, Michigan, has created a business model that takes the manufacturing environment out of the plant and delivers it to schools, community centers and practically anywhere that a tractor trailer can be parked.
Mr. Kurtz specializes in building mobile marketing and educational centers. These are hands-on road shows contained within an 18 wheeler. These “3D press kits,” as Mr. Kurtz likes to call them, expand to 22 feet when setup, creating almost 1,000 square feet of experiential learning space. Wrapped in eye-catching graphics, these draw the attention of both kids and adults alike.

He has two versions: One version is used to inform and teach people about the benefits of STEM careers. The Triune staff built an experiential, educational awareness and outreach trailer, with an emphasis on a career path in welding with the American Welding Society. This rolling interactive exhibit can be parked at a school and be toured by hundreds of kids in one day. Inside, the kids interact with a virtual simulated welding station to see how welding is done. The students also receive information about careers in welding. The vehicle was recently featured on Jay Leno’s latest TV show, “Jay Leno’s Garage.” The second version that Mr. Kurtz and the Triune staff built is a full-blown training school on wheels. One such vehicle is Northern Michigan’s Mobile CNC Digital Fab Lab.

Born from the need for more skilled CNC operators in rural northern Michigan, the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance joined forces with local manufacturers and North Central Michigan College and developed the idea for a self-contained mobile digital CNC training lab. The college owns and operates the lab and staffs it with a teaching professional. The Fab Lab includes 13 computer stations with CAD/CAM programs, as well as a CNC-controlled mill and lathe.

Designed to address workforce training needs, the mobile CNC lab approaches the solution with both a short-term and long-term solution. In the short term, companies can have immediate access to vital CNC training right in their parking lots. This saves money and time as companies can work with the instructor on specific training needs and rotate employees from shifts, rather than have them travel long distances for similar training. In the long term, as the mobile CNC lab is used in area high schools and colleges, this will fill the pipelines in the future with people with the skills needed to work in today’s high tech manufacturing companies. 

The next step in Mr. Kurtz’s vision is to create a mobile National STEM Immersion Experience around the United States. Starting in Michigan, he would like to see a fleet of self-contained, 53-foot, double-expandable mobile learning centers sent directly to individual school sites. The mobile modules would be designed to display grade level-based integrated STEM curriculum via hands-on exhibits, replica artifact displays and integrated, multimedia-driven technology.

Rather than waiting for others to overcome the negative perception of manufacturing careers, Mr. Kurtz is choosing to educate and inspire school children with a new idea.