Communicating the Message of Education

These examples of educational opportunities in manufacturing demonstrate that we’re making progress in addressing skills gap issues.

Every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success.
— Scott Adams

Since I returned to the manufacturing arena 13 years ago, I’ve been hearing continual conversations about the lack of skilled labor and the need to develop programs that will increase interest in the field. I believe the message is getting out there, but is it having an effect? Here’s what I’ve seen in only one month’s time.

At IMTS 2018, I witnessed hundreds of high school students wandering the aisles and checking out the technology in the booths. They seemed genuinely interested in and excited about the equipment and processes they observed. Their presence was driven mostly by the show’s Smartforce Student Summit, which hosted 24,469 registered visitors (7,000+ more than IMTS 2016). Greg Jones, vice president of Smartforce Development for AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology, says, “The national conversation around STEM education has had a positive influence on our ability to attract more schools to the Student Summit.”

IMTS also featured the Miles for Manufacturing 5K Run/Walk, which included 486 runners and raised $27,310 to go toward programs that prepare students for careers in manufacturing technology. The money will be used to acquire STEM Bionics4Education kits that will be donated to 14 schools, including STEM middle schools in the Chicago Public School system. Funds will also support FIRST Illinois robotics teams, FIRST Indiana robotics teams, and the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program.

Immediately upon my return home to Cincinnati from IMTS, I headed to a local high school that was hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand re-opening of its precision machine shop. This event was significant because the growing program is representative of many more like it in schools throughout the country. Colerain High School’s program is operated by Butler Tech, which provides career training in dozens of programs for high school students throughout southwest Ohio. The program is also supported by local machine shops that provide equipment, curriculum advice and mentorship. In return, these shops are often rewarded with access to some of the most qualified entry-level shop personnel as students graduate.

The following week I left for vacation out to beautiful Bend, Oregon. While the purpose of the trip was to get away from work and clear my head after a very busy summer and IMTS season, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when our manufacturing world snuck back in at an unexpected time. On day three of the trip, we arrived early to the Bend Oktoberfest so we could get good seats for the wiener dog races, but the bleachers were already packed. A local high school’s robotics team was providing a demonstration of one of its award-winning robots and answering questions about how the program has helped its students in project management, technical problem solving and team building skills. The curiosity of the young children in the front row was remarkable. They seemed amazed that in only a few short years they also could be involved in developing machines that seem so advanced.

On Friday, Oct. 5, we celebrated MFG Day, the annual event during which thousands of manufacturers around the country open their doors to students, parents and educators to inspire the next generation of manufacturers. MFG Day events can take many forms, including open houses, facility tours and job fairs, to demonstrate the positive aspects of a career in manufacturing.

It’s been a great month for drawing more attention to manufacturing, but the examples I’ve provided are only a small sample of the many ongoing programs that are in place in the U.S. and around the world to promote careers in the field. More and more schools are developing programs such as the one at Colerain High School where students can gain first-hand experience before committing to a high-cost college education. Companies are realizing the benefits of having their own apprenticeship programs that teach potential employees their methodology and set them up to be effective contributors, whether within that organization or elsewhere.

I see the results of these efforts every day as we continue to chip away at the skills gap. While we’re slowly overcoming the old image of “dirty manufacturing jobs,” the potential employee numbers are still too thin. We need to continue to press forward with these efforts until we’ve created the better “problem” of having too many qualified job candidates from which to choose.