How the manufacturing industry is working to interest high schoolers

As labor constraints continue to plague the U.S. manufacturing industry, many companies and states are turning to high schools to recruit and train future talent.

Take, for example, the Community College of Denver’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, which works with students as young as ninth grade. Along with concurrent enrollment in the program and a local high school, the institute offers facility tours to generate awareness among high school students of what a career in manufacturing can look like, said Chris Luchs, dean of instruction for business, social and behavioral science pathways at the school. 

Students can also try various training opportunities and workshops, like a 12-hour welding workshop, to gauge their interest before enrollment.

“We average about 75 students a year touring our facility, with about three to 10 students per tour,” said Luchs, who oversees the machining and welding and machine technologies courses.

“Demonstrating our trades is difficult because we work with large machinery, but we find that students respond to a “wow factor,” so we incorporate demonstrations, tutorials and an activity in which they can participate,” he added. “The growing prevalence of 3D printers has helped our ability to bring hands-on activities to schools.”

In addition to engaging with high school students, the center has established internships with various manufacturing companies in the Denver area and is frequently contacted by employers to post their jobs on the institution’s job board. The program also hosts manufacturing mixers as a way for employers and students to connect.

“Based on our tracking, we are averaging that 85% of our students are hired within three months of graduation,” Luchs said. This includes students who complete both certificates and degrees through the program.

In the Midwest, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is working to entice young students to manufacturing with its Michigan Talent Action Team, which it launched last year. The initiative is a coalition of educational institutions and manufacturers working to create a stronger talent pipeline for critical industries in the state.

The program pairs manufacturers with local educators to develop relevant training opportunities. Some of these are instructional programs and job shadowing days, while others are hands-on learning programs with pre-K-12 students, said Kerry Ebersole Singh, EVP and chief talent solutions officer at MEDC.

In January, MEDC announced $4.6 million in grants to support eight higher education institutions’ semiconductor education and training programs, Singh added.

The initiative includes funding for programs such as Delta College’s semiconductor curriculum for high school students, Michigan State University’s five day summer camp for middle and high school students, and high school training and outreach programs from the University of Michigan, Washtenaw Community College and Wayne State University. 

Such collaborations are further strengthened through industry events that bridge the gap between manufacturers, educators and students. For instance, this month, Informa Markets hosted an event at its conference IME West, bringing together over 360 high school students from across Southern California to showcase career opportunities in manufacturing and engineering.

The company partnered with The Diversity Org, a nonprofit that teaches underrepresented and minority students about obtaining high-income careers.

“There are thousands of open positions in manufacturing and millions of students across the U.S. from under-resourced backgrounds who are not exposed to the plethora of careers in this space,” said founder and CEO Joshua Pierce.

Through this event, The Diversity Org aimed to increase students’ interest in manufacturing careers by facilitating panels and show floor tours during which panelists and exhibitors exposed students to careers that many of them did not know existed, Pierce said.

The students received practical next steps to join these industries, such as how to apply for internships and jobs, and exchanged contact information with industry participants who could become their future employers.

Engaging students early is key, said Adrienne Zepeda, event director at Informa Markets.

“Instilling a passion for manufacturing and engineering at this critical life stage opens these students up to a whole new world of potential career opportunities,” Zepeda said. “For manufacturers, it helps shorten the recruitment and onboarding process as these students will already have exposure and built a base level knowledge of the next generation technologies that are being employed today.”

Disclosure: Informa, the owner of Manufacturing Dive’s publisher, Industry Dive, is also invested in Informa Markets. Informa has no influence over Manufacturing Dive’s coverage.