Manufacturers and Educators Collaborate to Fortify Worker Pipeline Despite Pandemic

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Vice President, Tooling U-SME on September 08, 2020

Jeannine Kunz, Vice President, Tooling U-SME

Despite half a year of unprecedented — and unexpected — change due to coronavirus, the manufacturing industry powers on. From medical supplies to consumer products, things must get made.

What hasn’t changed? The urgent need for skilled workers.

Without quick action, the availability of young talent could be impacted as schools consider their back-to-school strategies. Fortunately, companies and schools are pivoting to address their new environments.

The question on everyone’s mind since COVID-19 hit the U.S. in earnest in March 2020 is: How do I still meet my annual goals despite a moving target of challenges, such as company and school closures, absent employees, social distancing and more.

Innovation is what the manufacturing industry does best – and we are seeing the power of partnerships as manufacturers, educators, and others band together to brainstorm and create solutions to fortify the worker pipeline.

Here are four initiatives that are ensuring the manufacturing talent pipeline stays strong:

  1. Helped by a $25,000 investment from the Arconic Foundation and a $5,000 investment from Amazon, Inc., the SME Education Foundation continues to ensure that distance-learning opportunities become available for thousands of career and technical education (CTE) students across the country. At Tooling U-SME, we are working with the Foundation on a COVID-19 Campaign to provide online learning opportunities to high school students in 12 manufacturing disciplines, including additive manufacturing, mechatronics and smart manufacturing. This is an industry-driven and learner-centered curriculum. 
  2. The Saginaw Intermediate School District (ISD) in Michigan is preparing to launch its new manufacturing education program through the SME PRIME school initiative. As part of the program, Tooling U-SME is providing online training classes for high schools. Additionally, the ISD is receiving new manufacturing equipment, while instructors at seven high schools receive virtual and on-site professional development. This is made possible through a grant from Michigan’s Marshall Plan for Talent, a partnership among educators, employers and other stakeholders that is designed to improve the state’s talent pipeline.
  3. To help educators adapt to recent challenges, including asking instructors to teach virtually, our partner, National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC), collaborated with 38 industry strategic partners to develop best practices that emulate real-world and safe working environments during COVID-19. They also conducted a survey to learn how NCATC member colleges were handling hands-on labs in light of the pandemic. More resources continue to be made available.
  4. Back in March, we joined with other industry partners — manufacturers and CTE organizations — to form the CTE Coalition to assist schools across the country to rapidly adapt and continue moving forward during the early stages of the pandemic. Within a month of launching, the coalition had already helped more than a thousand high schools continue teaching tens of thousands of students in a new virtual environment. Now that industry and education are resetting and reopening, the CTE Coalition is providing real-time and curated post-COVID CTE research, tools and partners.

Pipeline Evolution

We have been impressed by the adaptability of the industry as it moves through various stages of the pandemic. Staying focused on developing the manufacturing talent pipeline, through the collaborations we discuss here and others, will have positive short, mid and long-term impact in the future.

  • Short-term: Back in the spring, we saw a rapid transition to online instruction at schools across the country.
  • Mid-term: (This is where we are now.) We are seeing an integration of elearning into CTE, building on lessons learned back in the spring. For schools that are limiting the time students spend on campus and in smaller classes, elearning frees up instructors to do more in smaller labs. If another wave of the virus hits and schools are shut down altogether, students will already be set up with elearning for a seamless transition.  Also, colleges can help boost capacity through partnerships with companies by offering short-term online training for workers who have pivoted to new responsibilities due to COVID and need to quickly boost their tech skills.
  • Long-term: This upcoming stage welcomes the introduction of integrated packages that include even more innovative technology such as hands-on XR (Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality) Labs to deliver training.

As educators quickly rethink, redesign, and reallocate resources, they are assured valuable industry support to deliver manufacturing training and instruction that works for everyone: students, schools and companies.

Together, we can make a difference.

If we can provide assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Tags: "Arconic Foundation", "augmented reality", COVID-19, "CTE Coalition", elearning, manufacturing, "manufacturing training", "National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers", PRIME, "Saginaw Intermediate School District", SME, "SME Education Foundation", "Tooling U-SME", "virtual reality", XR