BELLEFONTAINE – The manufacturing industry is struggling with the steep decline in available talent; over two million of three and a half million jobs nationwide will be left vacant in the coming years, according to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute.
Industry leaders are looking for solutions, and career technical education is part of that solution.
Career centers, like the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in Bellefontaine, provide hands-on career training for high school students in fields such as welding, engineering, health care, construction, multimedia marketing, electronics and manufacturing. Students have the opportunity to earn industry certifications and college credit while enrolled in the programs.
The relevancy of career centers rely on the partnerships forged between education and businesses to engage students in future careers.
In Champaign County, the manufacturers council and the city of Urbana Economic Development joined together to create a task force focused on identifying current and future workforce needs and educating the public about the manufacturing industry and how it affects the community.
The skills gap
Over 3,000 people are working in manufacturing careers in Champaign County. Recent data collected by the task force indicates 51.5 percent of manufacturing workers in Champaign County are between the ages of 45 and 64, while only five percent of workers are between 19 and 24 years old.
According to Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the city of Urbana, the county saw a 23 percent increase in manufacturing jobs from 2011 to 2013,
As this increase in manufacturing positions continues, it will be difficult to find new workers with the needed skills.
In a poll conducted by the Foundation of Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, 52 percent of teenagers in the United States said they have no interest in a manufacturing career. Of that 52 percent, around two-thirds, saw manufacturing as a “dirty, dangerous career that had little to no opportunity for growth or advancement.”
These stereotypes are not true of today’s manufacturing needs.
According to local manufacturers, the most needed traits are technology and computer skills, critical-thinking skills, technical training, math skills, accountability and work ethic.
All are required to operate and maintain high-end robotics and machines, which must be maintained in a safe and spotless environment.
“It’s important for students to understand what opportunities are out there for them in their own back yard,” stated Jill O’Neal, human resources manager for WEIDMANN, Urbana. “The statistics are alarming, and it’s our job to educate the communities that manufacturing has changed in the last 40 years. We’re competing with China and India to be more efficient and have higher-quality products.”
Manufacturers are constantly looking to hire welders, machinists, engineers, maintenance technicians and electricians with those skills.
“Manufacturing is an ever-changing industry thanks to the abundance of technology used in the businesses,” said O’Neal. “Collaboration with schools is critical to put this career path on the map for students.”
Bringing manufacturing to schools
For the past three years, local manufacturers and Economic Development hosted a Manufacturing Day with Ohio Hi-Point Career Center and Champaign County schools. Manufacturing Days allowed students to tour several facilities and see the equipment used and products produced.
The initiatives, while educational, weren’t enough to close the skills gap. Additional collaboration was needed to address the manufacturing needs.
Ohio Hi-Point Career Center heard the needs of the industry and joined the partnership to implement satellite programs at Triad Middle School and Triad High School for the 2016-17 school year. “Manufacturers need skilled workers right now, and we’re answering the call,” stated Debbie Wortman, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center Satellite director.
In addition to Ohio Hi-Point’s electronics engineering and welding programs on main campus, the career center is implementing manufacturing programs at Triad Middle School and Triad High School in Champaign County as well as Bellefontaine High School in Logan County and Kenton Middle School and Kenton High School in Hardin County for the 2016-17 school year.
Chris Piper, Triad superintendent, said, “There is a state initiative to increase college and career readiness. This includes bringing career education into the middle schools. Triad was in a transitional phase to fill programs that would provide students with an educational and career pathway. The manufacturing program was the piece we needed.”
The manufacturing programs are not funded through state grants; therefore, the initial start-up costs are absorbed through Ohio Hi-Point’s general fund money.
“Ohio Hi-Point has a limited budget, so we will be phasing in the courses in the next few years; however, we will make sure the necessary equipment is ready for the students in the fall,” said Wortman.
Enrollment in the new Triad programs look strong, with over 40 students enrolled in both the middle school and high school programs.
Classes for the manufacturing program can include MIG and TIG welding, machine operations, robotics, blueprint reading and many more as the program phases additional classes into the course.
“Collaboration is about the kids”, Piper said. “We’re working on doing a better job of educating kids not only on academic content, but also on real life opportunities. This is an educational piece that joins those two together.
“Through this partnership I’ve learned the needs of the community. We have people looking for work, but lacking the skills, and here’s a way to close that gap in the near future,” said Piper.
O’Neal also spoke praises for the partnership saying, “Manufacturers are excited to have a program that showcases the different career paths and allows us to spark their interest when they’re young.”
The manufacturers will be advisory members for the programs, providing guidance by fusing the industry knowledge and skills required into the curriculum and equipment selection for each program lab.
The first step in the collaboration between industry and schools is connecting with parents and students.
“We need to get in front of parents since they are a large factor in the decision-making process,” stated Wortman. “Manufacturing isn’t what it used to be. It’s high-tech, clean with the most advanced form of technology and robotics being used to create products. It’s a solid career choice for their child with very little debt.”
Several manufacturers also expressed an interest in hosting parent tours in the facilities to help spark discussions about manufacturing careers.
Steven Brandeberry of Johnson Welded Products stressed the importance of taking advantage of the manufacturing programs in the middle school and high school.
“I was attracted to manufacturing because it’s cool,” said Brandeberry, “There’s cool technology and heavy machinery, and if you learn the skills in the manufacturing programs at Triad, you’ll be able to find a job, because we need skilled workers now.”
In the same data collected by the task force, the average manufacturing worker earned nearly $66,000 in 2014.
“I’m looking to increase hopefulness,” said Piper. “Some students know they are going to college, and their skills will be needed in the manufacturing sector. Others don’t know what path they want to choose, but we can provide those students with the skills required to start them on a great future.”
The goals for the partnership between Triad Manufacturing Programs and the manufacturers include career days, externships, study trips, work-study opportunities and internships to students.
In August, Champaign County manufacturers will teach during the YMCA Inventor’s Workshop camp Aug. 2-7 for children ages 8 to 12. The campers’ inventions will be on display at an interactive mobile lab hosted by the manufacturers and Ohio H- Point during the Champaign County Fair Aug. 7-14.
“Manufacturing plays a huge role in making a difference in the community; without manufacturing, you don’t have the corporate jobs,” said Brandeberry,”Manufacturing is the backbone of America.”