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Captivating Youth Interest in High-Tech Manufacturing Fields

July 18, 2007

From federal, state and local governments to nonprofit organizations and private industry, nearly every sector has a stake in recruiting youth to the high-tech manufacturing jobs of the future in order to maintain a competitive advantage.


According to a 2005 Survey by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), 80 percent of U.S. manufacturers indicated they face a moderate-to-severe shortage of qualified workers. The survey finds that “this human capital performance gap threatens our nation’s ability to compete in today’s fast moving and increasingly demanding global economy.”


In addition, research shows a direct relationship between manufacturing’s negative image – which is tied to the old stereotype of the assembly line – and the decreasing number of young people pursing manufacturing careers, according to NAM. Several states have enacted programs and partnerships to address not only the shortage of qualified workers, but also the stigma of traditional manufacturing.


In Maryland, the Carroll County Department of Economic Development, Carroll Community College, and manufacturing industries joined forces to address a manufacturing workforce shortage in the region. The Carroll County Manufacturing Consortium was formed earlier this year with the goal of recruiting and attracting qualified and trained workers to the many specialized niche manufacturing industries in the county.


In 2004, Carroll County had 4,532 jobs available in manufacturing reported by 166 companies, said Denise Beaver, deputy director of the Carroll County Department of Economic Development. According to data from 2003, only 7 percent of the manufacturing workforce in Maryland is 24 years old or younger. Three-quarters of workers are in their prime working years of 25-54.


“The aging workforce is a major problem in the state,” Beaver said. The other main issue is overcoming the preconceived notions of traditional manufacturing and presenting manufacturing jobs as an appealing option for youth, Beaver added.


Many of the manufacturing industries in Carroll County are smaller shops that feed larger manufacturing companies, providing specialized products, equipment, and component parts for aerospace, biomedical, commercial and defense contractors throughout the region.


Industry representatives have asked the consortium to review apprenticeship programs for high school students and recent graduates. The consortium also is considering ways to offer college credit for machine technology coursework at the local career and technology center. Industry representatives have stated that current curriculum is out of touch with modern day manufacturing, Beaver said.


During the consortium’s first meeting in May, a marketing committee was formed to generate ideas for recruiting youth to manufacturing. Ideas discussed during the meeting include developing a web portal for local manufacturing companies to market opportunities to the public and an internal forum on Carroll Community College’s Blackboard to enable shared applications and resumes. In addition, the Carroll County Department of Economic Development is seeking grant money to offer internships and career connections for students. The consortium will meet again in August to discuss the marketing initiatives.


While it may prove challenging to capture the attention of young people in the classroom, a summer camp setting may be the ticket to sparking youth interest in high technology fields.


Last month, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania offered week-long Advanced Technology summer camps in engineering and nanotechnology/biotechnology for high school students. The camps are part of the ongoing Advanced Technology Initiative, which seeks to support and encourage the research, development and implementation of new and revised programs in advanced technologies at both the college and in the region.


Students attending the engineering camps were exposed to the areas of physics, engineering, graphics, chemical engineering, robotics binary coding and material science. Camp directors provided lessons and activities to engage students.


During the nanotechnology/biotechonology camps, students completed lab work in the areas of drug design, crime scene investigation, bioengineering, bioterrorism, infectious diseases, and scanning electron microscope analysis. State and federal funding sources allowed for the camps to be provided at no cost to the students.


Addressing local manufacturing needs, the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA) also offers manufacturing summer camps at locations across the country - each aimed at changing the image of manufacturing for youth.


“In the media, you hear only about manufacturing companies going offshore and jobs being lost,” said Terry Egan, director of FMA Foundations. The truth is, manufacturing companies in the U.S. are producing more than ever, utilizing the latest technologies, Egan said. The companies are no longer unclean, loud and unsafe.


Through partnerships with nonprofit organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, FMA provides grant money and the basic structure of how the camp should be conducted. The organizations then use their community resources to build the camps based on local manufacturing needs. This year, 20 camps were organized throughout the nation with a goal of 500 camps by 2010, Egan said.


The camps are geared toward students between the ages of 13-16. During the first couple of days, students use computer assisted design to create a project. They then transfer their designs to a computer numeric control machine and are able to take their finished products home. The final days of the camp are reserved for visiting local manufacturing companies to see what types of career opportunities are available.  


More information about FMA's Manufacturing Summer Camps is available at: http://www.fma-foundation.org/Student-Center.cfm