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Focus on the Workforce: A Prime Example of PRIME Success

Bart Aslin

By Bart Aslin
SME Education Foundation

Thirty-three years ago, leading members of SME created a vision that shaped the future—a vision that enabled a legacy of world class manufacturing in North America. Because of their foresight, courage and love for the manufacturing industry, there exists an organization that continues to inspire, support and prepare future world class manufacturers—The SME Education Foundation (SME-EF).

The organization that exists today is a result of the generosity of those who came before us. People like Myrtle and Earl Walker, who have donated more than $1 million over the past three decades, and Kenneth C. Novak who has made gifts to the foundation for more than 30 consecutive years.

Today’s manufacturing workforce has been shaped by their generosity and the support of SME, individuals, SME Chapters and manufacturing companies who have gifted more than $30 million to the Foundation since 1979. Their generosity has helped us to to accomplish important objectives: 

  • $8 million invested in youth programs, inspiring more than 60,000 students to explore and pursue STEM education for manufacturing engineering careers.
  • Grants of more than $17.5 million to 35 colleges and universities for the development of industry-related curricula.
  • More than $7.5 million in scholarships and $1.6 million in awards to students, faculty and researchers for manufacturing education.
  • In-kind gifts to SME-EF totaling more than $349 million have been distributed to North American institutions.

The SME Education Foundation is committed to addressing the shortage of manufacturing and technical talent in North America and strengthening manufacturing education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the US will face a skilled-worker shortage of 14 million by 2014. Today, nearly 30% of workers with science and engineering degrees are age 50 and older. As a result, our competitive edge is at risk with the possibility that North American manufacturing will continue to be lost to markets in Asia and South America.

In 2011, SME-EF responded to the critical need for skilled labor by recognizing and financially supporting high schools with exemplary manufacturing programs. Through the Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) recognition program, strong partnerships are created between organizations, businesses, and high schools.

PRIME was developed as a response to the growing skills gap crisis in the US along with its greater mission to inspire, prepare and support STEM-interested students. Upon graduation, students leave school with the tools to further their education and become skilled future innovators and contributors to industry.

The PRIME initiative takes a community-based approach to advanced manufacturing education. Financial support and boots-on-the-ground technical assistance help to create working partnerships between exemplary schools, businesses and organizations. The support provided by the PRIME program is having a positive and measureable effect as students begin to apply their advanced manufacturing skills prior to graduating from high school while working as interns at local manufacturing companies.

A prime example of PRIME success is Wheeling High School, located outside of Chicago. Wheeling has a newly-equipped fabrication prototyping lab that rivals local manufacturing companies. The lab provides students interested in engineering, architecture, and manufacturing with hands-on design experience and a competitive edge for work or degree programs after high school. The lab includes a 3D printer for rapid prototyping, HAAS CNC lathes and mill, CNC Plasma Cutter, CNC training stations, robotic work station, surface grinder and more.

The school engaged the local manufacturing community and identified their employment needs, which resulted in partnerships, funding and resources to help prepare students for manufacturing careers. In 2011, Wheeling High School was named one of the original six SME Education Foundation PRIME schools.

An important component of PRIME is encouraging schools to run their own manufacturing business. Wheeling engineering students started an in-school project, using advanced manufacturing processes and technologies, to design and fabricate a metal and wood plaque which identified their school as a PRIME site. After the project was complete, the SME Education Foundation signed a contract with the students to produce plaques for present and future PRIME schools.  The final design was chosen by the class of students who studied Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) and woodworking.
Wheeling High School teachers at their lab.
The project has been instrumental in teaching students real life business skills. These entrepreneurial young manufacturers learned to maintain production and cost efficiencies by reducing product cost and shipping weight. Through research and development, they came to use 50% less aluminum by engineering the thickness of the aluminum plates to ¼" rather than the original ½".  This was accomplished without changing the appearance of the plate, with a net result of reducing the per unit price from $175 to $125.

Other examples of PRIME success:

  • A pre-engineering program at Calera High School, Caler, AL, has involved students in projects ranging from building basic utility vehicles (BUV), to prosthetic limbs, and a hydro-electric plant. Inspired by a service trip to a Honduran village, students have learned to redesign and customize a fuel-efficient hybrid car, which is introducing them to green energy engineering. Learn more about this project at:
  • Petaluma High School, Petaluma, California partnered with the City of Petaluma to design and create metal park benches for the city to be placed in park and store fronts. All proceeds benefited the High School Metal Shop and the Regional Occupational Program. The program has earned the school over $100,000. Learn more about this project at:
  • In Chicago, “The Whistle Project” at Austin Polytechnical Academy (APA) provided students with an opportunity to produce aluminum whistles in the school’s “WaterSaver Faucet Manufacturing Technology Center.” The SME Education Foundation placed an order with the school to produce 500 whistles that were given to donors and members of their board of directors.
  • Kettering Fairmont High School, Kettering, OH, manufactured water bottles that were purchased by the Education Foundation who distributes them as gifts to its donors.
  • Summit Technology Academy, Kansas City, MO, has designed and manufactured key chains.

PRIME is a powerful partnership formed by the SME and the Education Foundation. Throughout the country, schools and organizations are joining together to inspire, prepare and support the next generation of advanced manufacturers. The health of our economy and our quality of life is dependent upon our continued success. ME

This article was first published in the June 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 6/1/2013

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