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Focus on the Workforce: Edge Factor: Making Manufacturing Cool

 Rodney Grover

Rodney Grover
Senior Development Officer
SME Education Foundation
Dearborn, MI 

In 2011, the NAM Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte documented that 81% of Americans identified manufacturing as the No. 1 industry they would like in their community to build wealth and create jobs. Unfortunately, only 35% of those people would advise their children and grandchildren to work in manufacturing. That is a huge gap and much of it is created by the millions of Americans with an old, outdated image of manufacturing.

Changing the image of manufacturing is critical to building a robust pipeline of young people willing to become STEM literate and pursue a career in our industry. Becoming STEM literate is hard work and means studying math, science, technology and engineering for many years in a world that has so many distractions in the way. Inspiring students to study, experiment with and enjoy STEM subjects is critically important for the future success of our industry.

Over the last two years, a tremendous amount of attention has been focused on manufacturing as the way out of our economic crisis. Building a robust pipeline and reskilling our existing workforce are key elements to our success and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of programs focused on workforce development in our schools, colleges and public/private organizations.

Changing the image of manufacturing must be done in a language young people relate to, in a format that they are comfortable with, and at a level they understand. There are so many ways to reach kids now but they are not ways in which most 50-year-old or older people are comfortable or even proficient. So how do we change the image? Today’s youth are bombarded with commercial marketing for products and services unlike any generation in our history. Trying to capture their attention and attract them to a career in manufacturing can be very difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

In order to reach kids how they live now, Sandvik, Okuma, Solid Works, Association of Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), SME Education Foundation (SME-EF) and others have been working with a young producer from Canada, Jeremy Bout, to show manufacturing as the imaginative, fun industry it is—through new media.

Bout’s Edge Factor ( is a loud, energetic, in-your-face "cool" program that entertains and informs the K-20 audience, teaching them necessary concepts and facts about manufacturing—without feeling overtly "educational."

Edge Factor is a high-energy series that brings to screen an inside look at real people using extreme technology to create the world we see around us. By exploring the astounding engineering challenges, we get to meet the personalities and technologies that make these stories possible.

The Edge Factor has four main goals:

  1. To provide an inside look at how manufacturing impacts our daily lives, shapes our countries and
    is the backbone of our economy;
  2. To bring to screen real people doing extraordinary things;
  3. To demonstrate that manufacturing is incredibly diverse and interesting;
  4. To engage the manufacturing community with the most current technology, innovative thinkers and processes;

As you can see, Edge Factor is not just a film project. It is a mission to which hundreds of thousands are attaching themselves in an effort to further the message that manufacturing is an exciting, high paid, high-skilled career that supports good, middle class jobs.

The Edge Factor has the very pointed goal of reaching the future generation to ignite a passion for innovation and engineering. Edge Factor, along with its partners, is working with teachers and education curriculum developers to reach the classroom with the interesting materials created by Edge Factor:

  • Edge Factor Show, a cool cinematic experience. The very first episode produced is about the Chilean Mining disaster and highlights how manufacturers from Pennsylvania and around the globe were directly involved with the successful rescue of the 33 men trapped for 69 days. The design and manufacturing of the machines and tools needed to extract the miners demonstrates the critical importance of manufacturing.
  • EDU Factor is an object-based education series of short classroom videos. It uses the main Edge Factor story of that season to catch the students' attention and then goes into the detailed processes and technologies demonstrated in the story. This will give teachers around the country resources that highlight exciting and relevant technologies used in today’s manufacturing environment.
  • Reality Redesigned (Student Competition) provides real-world interaction for the students in any program tied to STEM or project-based programming like the Project Lead the Way curriculum. This is a design contest with a reality show twist. Each of the contestants will engage in a hands-on multimedia project, based on the theme of an Edge Factor episode. They are required to submit their best design ideas as they relate to the show itself, providing both an explanation of the design and a business plan through an online presentation.

For Edge Factor to have any chance in reaching the right audience and succeeding in its mission, we must come together and unite as partners not competitors.

The groundwork for this cooperation has already been laid. SME-EF and Edge Factor have secured a relationship with Terry Iverson (Iverson & Company, Chicago, IL) who started CHAMPION Now to fulfill an identical mission some four years ago. Terry has handed over the use of the CHAMPION Now brand which will be re-purposed and re-branded in lockstep with SME-EF and the Edge Factor programming. Through CHAMPION Now, a grassroots movement of supporters are coming together to secure the future of our industry. These champions include companies and individuals who believe in and share the same vision for our industry and more importantly the futures of our children.

Stay tuned to this effort, more importantly become one of our Champions. To find out more about this initiative and how you can be part of it, contact me at ME



This article was first published in the April 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF.   

Published Date : 4/1/2012

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