Simulated Workplace: Students Get Back to Work

Posted By: Gretchen Schultz, Director of Workforce Development, Tooling U-SME on September 12, 2017

This fall, students are getting back to school…and work.

Focused on career-readiness, many educators have created simulated workplaces right in the classroom to provide students with real-life experience to help them prepare for good jobs in manufacturing.

What is a simulated workplace? With the help of local manufacturers, schools transform classrooms into companies. These in-school businesses solicit work, prepare estimates and complete projects for customers.

In addition to learning hard skills in the technical area, students also learn important soft skills such as teamwork, communication, punctuality, and more.

The end result is to ensure students are prepared to work at modern manufacturing facilities. For this to happen, it is essential students learn industry-relevant knowledge and skills in the classroom. The most successful programs have been jointly developed by manufacturers and educators.

An added advantage of this close partnership with industry is that local business leaders can provide opportunities such as on-site tours, mentoring, equipment donations, internships, jobs and even funding.

One exemplary model is found in West Virginia. The West Virginia Department of Education Simulated Workplace was designed by a committee of experts from business and industry throughout the state. Run like a real business, the program aligns with the state’s workforce requirements, including random drug testing, professionalism, attendance and safety.

More than 13,000 students in over 500 Career and Technical Education (CTE) classrooms participated in the pilot phase.

One of the participating schools — United Technical Center (UTC) in Clarksburg, W. Va., — created Precision Machining Company. This UTC Simulated Workplace operates like a machine shop and puts students in charge. They rotate through job roles such as foreman, project manager, and tool room attendant.

“To ensure our students are career-ready, we have built a strong partnership between schools, industry partners like Tooling U-SME, and our community,” said Kevin “Doug” Sands, Machine Tool Technology Instructor, UTC.

The two-year CTE program is open to high school juniors and seniors from eight local high schools, covering three counties. Students obtain the skills necessary to operate a variety of machining equipment, such as the lathe, mill, grinder, drill press, CNC turning center and CNC machining center, as well as gain experience with softer skills such as punctuality and cooperation.

In addition to hands-on training, UTC relies on curriculum that is 100 percent Tooling U-SME, using custom program assignments. These bundles of classes, selected from our more than 500 online courses, are pushed out to students at specific times during the semester. For example, students will work through the course bundle for weeks one through six before moving to the next bundle for weeks seven through 12.

“With Simulated Workplace, we see that students are more accountable and engaged, and manufacturers like the end product,” Sands said.

Schools see another advantage to simulated workplaces: they also raise revenue to maintain and grow CTE education.

“We started the program because there was no funding to buy equipment or materials,” said Craig Cegielski who founded Cardinal Manufacturing, a student-run manufacturing business within Wisconsin’s Eleva-Strum School District in 2007. “Over the years, we have worked with hundreds of customers and now we are completely self-sufficient.”

Craig, who is working on introducing the program on a national level, believes their success can be replicated in any school.

For advice from Craig and more background on both simulated workplace programs, download a free copy of Tooling U-SME’s white paper: “Making the Grade: Schools Adopt Business Approach to Develop the Next Generation of Manufacturing Workers.”

Contact us at 866.706.8665 to learn more.

Tags: "Cardinal Manufacturing", "Craig Cegielski", "Eleva-Strum School District", "Kevin 'Doug' Sands", manufacturing, "online training", "Precision Machining Company", "simulated workplace", "United Technical Center", "West Virginia Department of Education"