Like many around the world, I recently read about and watched with awe and appreciation at the performances of athletes from around the world at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Most of these athletes were young: six of those competing were just 15 years old! The power and precision of these young performers at the pinnacle of their ability was breathtaking.
As I watched the Games, I was reminded of the bright futures that lie ahead. From my days as a classroom teacher to my current role as the director of K–12 Educational Programs for the SME Education Foundation, I’ve witnessed the great potential of young people every day of my career. My responsibilities include the SME PRIME Schools initiative.
SME PRIME collaborates with manufacturers and schools to develop advanced manufacturing education programs tailored to meet the specific skills requirements of the local workforce. It provides schools with industry-relevant equipment, technologies, curriculum and teacher training, and offers students opportunities to experience co-ops and internships while earning industry-recognized credentials. Through this program, we’ve established a growing network of 45 high schools in 22 states and impacted more than 45,000 students. The benefits of a collaborative program that combines input, resources and ideas from industry and education to create and implement a strategic plan for career development are clear to government, manufacturers and educators.
A Powerful Force in the US Economy
Manufacturing supports an estimated 17.6 million jobs in the US, or about one in six private-sector jobs. More than 12 million Americans (or 9% of the workforce) are employed directly in manufacturing. According to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturing contributed $2.18 trillion to the US economy in 2016. Taken alone, that’s the ninth largest economy in the world! Manufacturing is stable, it’s growing and it’s still incredibly important to the US economy.
But there is a challenge that I’ve seen, that industry sees, and that educators see: attracting bright young minds to explore and learn STEM skills through technical coursework. In a 2017 report, “A Look Ahead: How Modern Manufacturers Can Create Positive Perceptions With the US Public,” Deloitte noted that “For US manufacturers to succeed in the long term, they will likely need to first work toward improving the perception of their companies, as well as the overall industry, and make manufacturing a preferred destination for the world’s top talent.”
This is recognized as a key goal at the national and state level. Several state governments are taking action. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder recently unveiled his “Marshall Plan” for talent, focusing on ensuring that young people know about, become interested in and are trained to fill the coming jobs to be offered by employers in Michigan.
“This is a huge national problem, and it’s a global problem in some ways,” Snyder said. “And the people who solve it best are actually going to jump-start their economy even more. Companies will not only stay and grow here—companies will come here. If you can show you have supply, you’re going to have demand showing up.”
Similarly, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said, “Not everyone wants to go to college, but people want the skills to get a job and advance their careers. At the same time, businesses are growing and need a pipeline of talented people for emerging industries.”
Changing outdated perceptions of manufacturing must start at home. According to the Deloitte report, “less than five in 10 Americans surveyed believe manufacturing jobs are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure. Also, most believe that manufacturing is not the preferred industry to start a career today, with fewer than three in 10 Americans surveyed likely to encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career.” Those are shocking statistics, but they underscore the importance of the undertaking. As with the best partnerships between industry and education, it’s going to take collaboration and conversation.
And, just as with those young Olympic athletes, children and young people first need an introduction to manufacturing opportunities and STEM subjects. They need to find joy and the opportunity for expression. They need to understand the opportunity for success through preparation and to see that success through role models, both in the classroom and throughout industry. They need to understand that there is no limit to their potential and that, with the right training, instruction and study, there will be success.
Fun, Accessible and Inspirational
We can all remember our favorite experiences as children: they were fun. We did best in classes when teachers were engaged, interested and creative. For those of us who were Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, we may have excelled at higher levels of scouting as we got older, but we joined because it was fun, exciting and new. It is up to us in manufacturing to replicate those kinds of experiences for young people.
One particularly successful collaboration that did just that involved our SME PRIME partners at Arconic Foundation and Wadsworth City Schools in Ohio, where we were able to offer over 450 students STEM Summer Camp experiences. Engaged students had fun while exploring and learning soft skills like creativity, collaboration and critical thinking; at the same time they were introduced to the technical skills needed to create rockets and other mechanisms, write computer code and operate tools and machines.
Competition often brings out the best in all of us. SME has engaged with schools and organizations at several of its events to bring high school students together to meet, work together and compete in STEM-oriented and career skills projects. An added benefit—one that I have experienced as a longtime SME member myself—is the opportunity for young people to see, meet and talk with people in our industry.
SME also created the Additive Manufacturing Contest for SkillsUSA (for its National Leadership and Skills Conference) to attract more students to careers in manufacturing and emerging technology—a competition increasingly relevant as more companies look for workers with skills in this area.
Shaping the Future
As I travel to SME PRIME schools or meet with manufacturers involved with the SME PRIME School initiative, I see the interest from students. I know and see the commitment of educators. And I’ve worked with some terrific companies who share the desire to shape the future of young people.
Last summer, the SME Education Foundation, Shape Corp. and Grand Haven Area Public Schools (GHAPS) in Michigan formed a partnership to launch SME PRIME at Grand Haven High School.
“We’ve collaborated on creating a leading program, a model program,” said Julie Davidson, talent acquisition manager at Shape Corp. “We’ll be working with talented students—and we’ll be guiding them, expanding their opportunity and helping them realize their potential.”
Jeremy Case, technical education teacher at Grand Haven for more than 17 years, said the impact of the collaboration is unlike anything he’s seen: “I’ve had great feedback from our students. Every one of them is engaged and excited. They’re learning and enjoying the classes; they understand that this is education with a purpose. They’re acquiring knowledge and skills that are applicable right now.”
The best part of any job is to know that you’re working for something important; that you’re making a difference. It’s certainly a part of my role, and I think it can be a part of the role of everyone in our industry.
When perceptions are changed, inspiration will follow.