In the first part of this post, we discussed the problem in American manufacturing and the growing age gap between the current work force and those entering the manufacturing profession. In part one, we discussed the first three things that we as a country and an economy can do to attract a new generation of workers to manufacturing. Part two of this post will cover the last four points of the seven things we can do to attract youth to manufacturing.
4. Vocational Schools and Manufacturing-Focused High School Classes
Students have been taking technology-oriented classes for years, but there's certainly something to be said for very specific skills-training classes offered within high schools. Things like vocational schools and manufacturing-focused classes provide technical training and know-how, essentially giving students a taste for what the careers entail and even preparing them for entry-level positions.
Vocational schools have been around for decades, but recently they've gotten more attention. In some programs in New York, Massachusetts, and California, students can take college courses while in high schoolsometimes taking five years to graduate rather than fourand leave with both a high school diploma and an associate's degree (or be well on their way to one).
Perhaps, in this respect, we should also take a page out of the German manufacturing handbook, where the country's putting a lot of effort into apprenticeships, awareness, and improving the respect of both students and the broader public for those in manufacturing careers.
5. National Manufacturing day
Last year, the U.S. celebrated the second annual National Manufacturing Day. More than 800 plant tours, career workshops, and open houses were held by a number of associations, universities, and manufacturing organizations. Each aimed to show younger generations that manufacturing not only offers viable career options, but also something that can be fun and exciting. The success will carry over into 2014, with the next event slated for early October.
Separate from National Manufacturing Day, the resurgence of manufacturing in America has driven a variety of manufacturers throughout the country to get more involved with their communities, offering plant tours to middle school and high school students and even visiting schools to get the point across that the shop floor's no longer a dangerous, dirty, and dark place. You can expect this trend to continue as more public and private focus is put on the widening skills gap.
Makerspaces are popping up throughout the country. They're generally shared spaces where community members can gain access to manufacturing resources, such as tools, materials, educational opportunities, peers, and more. The idea is to provide a safe environment for small manufacturing organizations, hobbyists, and students that transcends the constraints of cost and space, so they can design, prototype, and create things on their own.
This one's a no-brainer, but it's important to bring it up. Parents can of course influence their child's interests, making it critical to provide the opportunity to actually make (Lego's, electronics kits, etc.) things rather than just playing with them. Toys don't have to always be action figures or video games, and summer camps don't have to always be for sports. There are plenty of options for all age groups--it's just a matter of taking action.
What's the Goal of These Efforts
When it comes down to it, the best way to get the youth interested in manufacturing is by exposing them to it as early and often as possible. The longer we wait to let them know about the interesting stuff happening in the space, the less likely they are to actually have an interest in hands-on, mechanical activities.
There will always be that subset of kids who go out of their way to take something apart and try to understand how it works, but a vast majority of them just need to be presented with the opportunity.
This post has been reprinted from the MFRTech News Weekly Newsletter from the week of May 8, 2014.