The nation’s current and growing manufacturing skills gap is well documented: the industry needs more talented and qualified young people than ever before to fill roles in modern, advanced manufacturing. Some schools are taking a proactive approach in addressing the skills gap – at a regional or even local level; collaborating with business and community leaders to provide an opportunity for students.
Park High School, part of the Racine Unified School District, serves 1,900 students. Opened in 1929 and located in the southern part of Racine, the school has become an SME Education Foundation PRIME school. SME PRIME (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) focuses on closing the skills gap by establishing current, relevant and applicable manufacturing education in high schools. Working with industry to tailor technological and manufacturing curricula to prepare high school students, The SME PRIME initiative encompasses 47 schools across the country.
Through significant financial support from the Andis Foundation and the Emerson Charitable Trust – and local support and engagement with Racine’s InSinkErator, a business unit of Emerson, Park High School students receive knowledge, technical skills and the opportunity to earn credentials while learning in a hands-on environment, preparing them for career pathways in advanced manufacturing.
Educated as an electrical engineer, Park High School instructor Valerie Webb-Freeman sees everyday young minds first grasp, then embrace the potential opportunities being offered through CTE 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 ok 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."