Insight on Manufacturing

September 2013

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INSIGHT FROM ... Chris Linn, senior marketing executive Bridging the career gap Manufacturers and educators should make efforts to work together B y n ow, i f yo u hav e n ' t h e a r d o f t h e growing gap in the career pipeline for highly-skilled, well-paid manufacturing jobs, you might be living under a rock. There are hundreds of rewarding manufacturing career opportunities in Northeast Wisconsin going unfilled because there aren't enough qualified young people available to fill these wellpaying careers. (Note: These are careers, not simply jobs.) There are many reasons for this manufacturing career gap. From a practical standpoint, they tend to boil down to a few key ones for which action can and should be taken: 1. Manufacturers haven't gotten the message out about their rewarding careers to students, educators and parents who are an integral part of the manufacturing career pipeline. 2. Manufacturers often don't meaningfully engage with the education system to build welcoming relationships with parents, teachers and students. 3. Parents, students, teachers and the general public often think of manufacturing careers as dirty, mindless jobs with a bleak future, despite the fact that today's manufacturing careers are high-paying high-tech, and last for a lifetime. One would think that bridging the career gap would be simple. After all, it's not that manufacturers don't care about where their future workforce will come from. And it's not like parents and educators aren't interested in preparing students for rewarding careers. Nor is it safe to assume that students aren't eager to find fulfilling careers. With all the desire and good intentions on everyone's part, why do we still have this growing manufacturing career gap? Teachers are eager to connect with manufacturers. They would love to see and experience it. However, their teaching priorities leave little time for reaching out to manufacturers. For their part, manufacturers fall into a couple of groups – those who don't engage with the schools because they either don't see the need or have had unrewarding experiences in the past, and those that are eager to work with the schools, but want to make sure it is a good fit for their companies' unique needs. Let's face it, manufacturers are focused on getting product out the door and will typically participate in programs that directly benefit them. So how do we overcome the inertia created by the status quo? In the Fox Valley, Menasha High School has an ongoing metal fabrication partnership with AZCO. A to Z Machine runs a Youth Apprenticeship program and has partnerships with local five high schools. Fox Valley Tool & Die, Bassett Mechanical and CMD are examples of manufacturing companies that have opened their doors to technology, engineering and manufacturing educators and students. Fox Metal Tech, Lindquist Machine and Georgia Pacific have longstanding relationships with schools in the Green Bay area. The most comprehensive partnership for manufacturing career development is between Ariens and the Brillion schools. More such collaborations are needed. With all the desire and good intentions on everyone's part, why do we still have this growing manufacturing career gap? A successful program has to make sense to students, teachers and the manufacturers. It's like a three-legged stool – if it doesn't work for one of the three parties, then the program will falter and ultimately fail. The program's activities need to be relevant to the students' career and learning goals, the school's curriculum and the manufacturer's career pipeline needs. Secondly, a commitment to investing time talent and funding is vital to providing the resources needed for personnel, equipment, materials and transportation. Even the most basic program will require a modest outlay of resources to make things happen. Thirdly, the school, the manufacturer and the student each need to be willing to adjust schedules and procedures to align the program to the unique needs of everyone continued > w w s i g h t o n m f g . c o m September 2013 • / insight on manufacturing | 19

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