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December 27, 2017
In the next decade, it is estimated that two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled(1). When the average age of millennials in manufacturing is already 27, it’s time to focus proactively on the “Z Generation” (1995-2012)(2) to help address this shortage. So what are local companies and organizations doing around the Pacific Northwest to engage with elementary and high school students to prepare and recruit the Z Generation for jobs in advanced manufacturing? These are jobs that may require an advanced technical degree in engineering simply to work on the shop floor.
Skills, Inc., a social enterprise engaged in manufacturing and headquartered in Auburn, Washington, created the Aerospace Internship Program in 2001 for high school students to learn important trade skills, including aerospace machining and finishing. The program aligns with their social mission to hire persons with disabilities and offers a workforce solution for an industry challenged with waning interest from younger generations. They have graduated over 300 students and counting from this program that combines hands-on training with high school credits. One of these graduates went on to work on the shop floor, but challenged himself to continue his education. He took programming classes at the local community college and now translates part drawings engineered by Boeing into programming instructions for one of Skills’ CNC Machines.
FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international organization founded in 1992 that holds competitions around the world, including here in the Northwest. High school students organize teams that build and machine their own robots over the course of six weeks. These robots then compete in a series of challenges such as flying discs into goals and balancing on beams. Gilbert Flores is an engineer at Seattle based manufacturer, Blue Origin, and a First Robotics Mentor at Sammamish High School for the Girls Generation Competition, which is conducted by FIRSTWA in the off-season. This is a high school level event, but is designed to engage girls as young as elementary school in robotics engineering. Gilbert says, “I continue to be a mentor with FIRST because it shows kids a fun application of math and science. Designing and building a robot in six weeks is a lot of work and often stressful. But seeing how their faces light up when they get to the competition and watching them grow in technical ability from freshman to seniors makes it worth it.”
Providing youth with a behind-the-scenes look at the technology and lean principles found on the shop floor can give them the framework needed to choose a career in advanced manufacturing.
In 2012, National Manufacturing Day was founded to change the perception of the manufacturing industry as outdated, to the innovative environment it has become today. Manufacturers are encouraged to open their doors to students, business people, and lawmakers in their communities for tours and education about the products and components they produce for a wide spectrum of industries, including medical, aviation, space, and consumer products, just to name a few. Through sponsors and endorsers, their website provides resources and educational materials for manufacturers to host their own local tour. They also track participation and provide survey information to highlight the success of the movement. Of the students who attended a Manufacturing Day event in 2016, “84% [were] more convinced that manufacturing provides careers that are interesting and rewarding.”
Another way the manufacturing industry has stepped up to address the workforce development issue is through partnering with educators to develop career and technical education (CTE) courses known as CORE Plus. These courses, created in partnership with Boeing, teach foundational manufacturing skills in the high school shop classroom. These classes are not just a recycled version of the old wood shop class of years gone by, but a sophisticated combination of STEM learning concepts and hands-on application in a manufacturing setting. Jene Jones of Legislative Solutions, a long time educator turned political activist, states, “With the $513 million dollars of new state investments in Career Technical Education over the next 4 years, there will be opportunities to partner with your local school districts to either inform new programs about industry need and the types of skills students need to acquire to meet that need, and/or to take an apprentice or intern at your business.”
Yes, the manufacturing workforce issue is being addressed in various institutional ways, but it is the real grassroots efforts of manufacturers in their own communities where students of the Z Generation will be impacted in the most powerful way. Providing youth with a behind-the-scenes look at the technology and lean principles found on the shop floor can give them the framework needed to choose a career in advanced manufacturing.
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