Focus on the Workforce: Advanced Manufacturing Clicks with Students
"Can I use this website to find companies that might be interesting for me to job shadow?"
"What if I want to find a company that would hire me for a summer internship? Could I post my resume for companies to look at it?"
These were just two of many questions asked by a group of high school juniors and seniors when the National Center for Manufacturing Education (NCME) at Sinclair Community College (Dayton, OH) visited the classroom to learn what they would want to find on a Web site devoted to the promotion of advanced manufacturing careers. The NCME was first approached in May 2008 by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation (SME-EF) to collaborate on creating a Web site that would excite high school and college students about the lucrative career opportunities in advanced manufacturing, and to improve the image of advanced manufacturing, especially in the current economic climate when much of the media coverage of manufacturing is less than positive. As Bart Aslin, SME-EF director states: "With nearly 75 million baby boomers set for retirement, now, more than ever, technically skilled workers are in high demand."
The Web portal, www.careerME.org, went live in April 2009 with national, regional, and local components. While the initial rollout of the site features content specific to the southwest Ohio region, the goal is to quickly expand local and regional representation on the site from all 50 states.
During all phases of development, we visited three area high schools gathering diverse student feedback that led to particular features on the www.careerME.org site. For example, one high school senior commented, "I'm pretty good at doing design. Do companies use simulation software? How do they get it set up for machining?" This student had used simulation software to design a fixture that winds wire for an AC power collection device idea to store energy from the opening and closing of office building doors. The team's capstone project submitted to the Tech Prep showcase at Sinclair Community College is the kind of regional event that the careerME.org Web portal is well suited to highlight.
As part of the Tech Prep showcase, industry volunteers representing a variety of engineering disciplines judged student projects that demonstrated their application of concepts they learned throughout the year as part of their Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum. PLTW is a national organization that seeks to encourage students to pursue careers in engineering, and another resource link to PLTW is available on www.careerME.org.
David McDaniel, Miami Valley Tech Prep Consortium project coordinator for the showcase, told the volunteer judges that the student career-focused projects were supposed to integrate research about an assigned problem with demonstration of proficiency in technical and academic competencies. The teams were required to submit a narrative description of their capstone, and gained an appreciation of the importance for good communication skills through their interaction with the judges. Over the life of their project, students have an industry mentor working closely with them, which validates the real-world application of their work.
The Tech Prep showcase and PLTW are just two representations of the excitement that can be generated relating to advanced manufacturing. What the SME-EF and the NCME envisioned in developing careerME.org was a site with dynamic and interactive features showcasing the opportunities in advanced manufacturing, from the traditional such as automotive, to the new and emerging, such as biotechnology. The site would use profiles of actual manufacturers and individual employees to capture the students' attention and interest—and the attention and interest of parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and other influential adults.
Our initial concern was how to reach a high school student. They are computer savvy, and almost 75% of the students we surveyed actively use a social networking application like Facebook. They get on and off the Internet in a flash to do information gathering, versus going to the library to sit and read any kind of reference material. Our challenge was figuring out the Web site features that would be desirable to not only get the student to the site, but also encourage them want to come back later as they progress through their academic careers.
To ensure the dynamic nature of www.careerME.org, it's necessary to add to and update the career profiles and information on educational programs and related resources. This is perhaps the biggest challenge we face.
One way to involve companies is through regional associations, as the NCME is doing in the southwest Ohio area with the Dayton Tooling and Manufacturing Association (DTMA). DTMA is an advocate of the advanced manufacturing industry in the Greater Dayton region, fostering business success through networking, education, and sharing best practices. Robert Mott, Professor Emeritus at the University of Dayton, and a member of the DTMA's Career Awareness Committee points out that: "Companies have diversified their customer bases, increased productivity, adopted advanced manufacturing methods and processes, and launched new businesses employing emerging technologies—approaches designed to maintain competitive positions in a global market to the future." Mott's involvement with SME's Manufacturing Education & Research Community validates the importance of initiatives such as careerME.org to bring many short and long-term benefits directly to manufacturing companies, and to have a far-reaching impact on the workforce and economic health of participating regions.
The www.careerME.org homepage highlights real people with descriptions of their daily activities, how they use technology in their job, and what courses and training helped them get ready to meet their career challenges. In addition, the individuals profiled offer lessons-learned advice to students who might consider entering their field.
The site provides a user-friendly navigational map to allow students to go directly to a particular state or a region to further explore the local profiles created for that area. Companies with multiple manufacturing facilities in more than one state can be viewed at state or national levels.
Often described as a Web "portal," www.careerME.org provides immediate access to relevant resources. It can be difficult to formulate the perfect Google search to return the desired results on the first try. A tremendous amount of content is available daily through news stories, company announcements, manufacturing videos, uploaded charts and graphs, and links to other Web sites that offer information about advanced manufacturing—even knowing where to begin can be a challenge. By using www.careerME.org, the searching is more direct and userfriendly. For example, parents searching for precollege engineering summer camps in their area for their student would use the Resource Links tab to display educational programs with direct links to these sites.
Regional industry and academic partners also play a significant role in providing content specific to their location. Most post-secondary academic institutions have industry advisory committees, and many participate in consortiums that offer student activities geared toward introducing young people to the variety of career paths available in advanced manufacturing. Both the educational institutions and their industry partners can provide information on their current and future workforce needs, thus making them appropriate to be regional host partners for careerME.org. The Web site's infrastructure is database-driven, and regional host partners have the ability to enter advanced manufacturing content relevant to their area directly to their regional page on the site.
At Kettering Fairmont High School in Ohio, David Lord's PLTW juniors and seniors set aside one day during the school year to job-shadow a person working in advanced manufacturing, after which they submit a written report detailing their experience. What if these students could take this learning activity to the next level and publish their work online, thus sharing their job-shadowing experience with students in other states? Given the right tools and templates, good instruction, and a written report review process, students themselves would actively participate and help grow www.careerME.org site. Other potential for direct student involvement in the site includes real-time "chats" with the individuals who have their profiles posted, and to having an area to post resumes for companies looking for summer interns. The "Hello CareerME User!" feature eventually will incorporate these and other ideas for engaging students and teachers directly with advanced manufacturers.
To learn more about www.careerME.org, to participate with an individual and company profile, to provide awareness about articles and videos about manufacturing, or to become a regional host partner, E-Mail suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Industry involvement is the key!
This article was first published in the June 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.