Inspiring young people to explore manufacturing opportunities — or STEM opportunities in general — is critical. Misperceptions surround manufacturing, among them that manufacturing is a low-tech field, and an unimportant piece of the U.S. economy. It isn’t, and it’s our job to make that clear.
Manufacturing Day is a critical component of that solution: Manufacturing Day gives manufacturers an opportunity to open their doors and show, in a coordinated effort, what manufacturing is — and what it isn’t.
The SME Education Foundation works collaboratively with manufacturers and educators across the country to inspire the next generation of manufacturing and engineering talent.
Our Student Summit event series at SME events across the country deliver student-centric programming, hands-on challenges and competitions, technology demonstrations and guided show-floor tours. Just this year, we’ve introduced 1,240 students to advanced manufacturing. That early introduction is critical: Students can meet manufacturers, take part in innovative competitions and become familiar with the opportunities.
Manufacturing is losing large numbers of skilled workers as they retire — and our new generation needs to first be made aware of the opportunity in advanced manufacturing and then educated and taught the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities needed to succeed.
Our efforts to prepare students center on our flagship SME PRIME (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) initiative. SME PRIME is directly enhancing the talent pipeline by partnering with industry to develop cost-effective manufacturing and engineering training programs in 47 high schools across the country.
A collaborative model, SME PRIME brings together manufacturers and schools to address localized workforce needs and create opportunities for area high school students. The initiative provides modern, advanced manufacturing equipment; a tailored curriculum; and a hands-on training experience for both students and educators.
Anna High School, an SME PRIME School in rural Anna, Ohio, was highlighted in an extended feature in “The New York Times” discussing preparation of high school students for careers in robotics. The story prominently features the school and global manufacturer Honda, the manufacturing partner supporting the initiative. Through SME PRIME, students are gaining experience with robotics programming and operations, fulfilling manufacturers’ need for people who can operate, troubleshoot, maintain and install robotics and automation technology.
Starkweather Academy, part of Plymouth-Canton Community Schools in Michigan and an SME PRIME school, partnered with a coalition of local manufacturers. One company, LINK Engineering, became involved to sustain its growth, recognizing the critical importance of supporting and training the next generation of craftsman in skilled trade positions such as machinists, electricians, machine builders, fabricators, field service technicians and test technicians.
“The SME PRIME initiative provides a gateway for students to get into the skilled trades and support highly skilled positions at global companies like Link Engineering,” said Jerry Verkerke, LINK Engineering vice president of operations.
Manufacturing Day underscores that opportunities for all students exist in a new, advanced manufacturing environment.
The diverse student population of Park High School in Racine, Wisconsin, another SME PRIME school, acquire knowledge, technical skills and the opportunity to earn credentials while learning in a hands-on environment. Educated as an electrical engineer, Park High School instructor Valerie Webb-Freeman helps young minds first grasp, then embrace, the potential opportunities being offered through technical programs at the school. Those opportunities extend to every educational level.
“Not every student will, or even should, go to college,” Webb-Freeman says. “It’s okay not to go — but I’m preparing my students to have that choice; to be prepared for a rewarding career or continuing education — or both.” Part of her responsibility, says Webb-Freeman, is informing parents and students of the many paths, opportunities and careers available in manufacturing. “I want to attract everyone; I want to include everyone; to share my own experiences and expose them to an opportunity they may not have known about."
That quote crystalizes why Manufacturing Day is so important — and why we strive to inspire, prepare and support young people toward and in their manufacturing interests and achievements. Young people, starting out or advancing their education, need support, too.
Created by SME in 1979, the SME Education Foundation has provided more than $33 million in grants, scholarships and awards through its partnerships with corporations, foundations, organizations and individual donors. In 2019, we awarded 222 separate scholarships — $550,000 granted to graduating high school seniors, undergraduates and graduate students.
Manufacturers, communities, educators, students and parents can all benefit from participating in Manufacturing Day: Last year, more than 80% of students said they became more convinced that manufacturing provides interesting and rewarding careers after attending these events.
That’s our mandate; our opportunity: Inspire, prepare and support young people as they discover, then achieve, the next chapters of manufacturing excellence.
It is important.