Students, Parents and Industry Can Be on the Same Page about a Career in Manufacturing

Posted By: Lori Byrne, Workforce Education Specialist, Tooling U-SME on September 10, 2019

Students, Parents and Industry Can Be on the Same Page

The start of a new school year alerts educators to the numbers of students that have enrolled at their community or technical college across the country.

Declining enrollment is always a consideration. Nearly 60 percent of community college presidents reported that enrollment is down at their institutions over the last few years, according to the 2019 Survey of Community College Presidents by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup.1

This is concerning news for the manufacturing industry. According to the Tooling U-SME Manufacturing Industry Pulse Report, 99 percent of respondents to our survey say their top workforce challenge is finding new skilled hires. Community and technical colleges have traditionally been essential for filling the manufacturing workforce pipeline, but with the new breed of millennials and Gen Z’ers, it’s not that simple.

It’s important for manufacturing to appeal to the style and behavior of this younger generation, which has no desire to be cookie-cutter employees. Parents need to help change their mindset about the manufacturing environment and be shown the potential for successful job opportunities for their kids. Industry should get more involved and appeal to all of these individuals, showing them the new technology, career pathways, and benefits endemic to working in manufacturing.

Here are a few steps you can take to increase college enrollment and get everyone interested and involved in manufacturing:

  1. Sweeten the image: Manufacturing is not viewed as a very trendy job by today’s youth. It has been characterized as low-paying, lacking in job security and having limited career opportunities – even though that’s not the case anymore. It’s up to community colleges and manufacturers to show how manufacturing has evolved through innovative advanced technology, such as additive manufacturing, and how it requires more than just punching a time clock. Students tend to get excited about things like robotics, 3D printing, and digital factories.
  2. Get the parents on board: Parents often act as influencers and barriers to having their children consider a career in manufacturing. To change their minds, representatives of community colleges and industry should attend parents’ night at local schools, set up interactive booths at football games, and make it easy for parents to experience what the new technology is all about. Explaining to parents how their children can walk out of manufacturing workforce training with a successful career path that provides excellent pay, with lower or no debt, plus benefits and lifestyle balance, goes a long way.
  3. Partner with industry: Ask your local manufacturers to get on board! They can contribute by providing job shadowing opportunities, manufacturing tours for students and parents, and sponsoring career nights that can highlight new technology while showing off a clean and safe work environment. They are also integral in providing input for your curriculum so that once your students leave, they are qualified for jobs in their area. Manufacturers are, after all, the ones who need new hires – immediately!
  4. Apprenticeship programs – What better way to get students excited about working than by having them experiencing the job firsthand as part of their training? Look into sponsoring apprenticeship programs to recruit those students who want to work with their hands, want to see the product of their efforts, and get paid while they learn. Companies pay students’ salaries, benefits, and all costs incurred for their associate degrees – not a bad proposition.
  5. Strike early: Today, a strong trend nationwide has K-12 schools adding project-based learning to curriculum to enhance learning outcomes. As Ben Franklin famously said, “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”2 It’s important for community colleges to reach out to local schools when their students are at an early age to support and encourage a curriculum focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Kids as young as first grade can relate to Legos – show them how it translates into manufacturing.

The bottom line is that the new generations represent a larger community than the baby boomers and are ripe for defining their lifestyles. Manufacturing can play a big part in giving them everything they are looking for and more. And, it can answer the growing skills gap in every community. It’s up to the manufacturing educators and industry to evolve along with the technology, make some flexible choices, and work with this new generation of learners.

1. Inside Higher Ed, Presidents Divided on Community College Bachelor's Degrees, Ashley A. Smith, April 12, 2019

2. Innovative Training for the New Collar Workforce is Key to Bridging the Skills Gap, Sarah Boisvert, Chief 3D Printing Officer, Potomac Photonics on April 24, 2018

Tags: "3-D printing", apprenticeship, "career pathways", "Gen Z'ers", K-12, manufacturing, millennials, Parents, robotics