For many years it has been my belief that the biggest reason there is a skilled labor shortage is due to the negative perception that manufacturing jobs have in the minds of the general public. Many people believe that manufacturing jobs are not seen as viable careers, they are not an area that parents or school counselors guide children toward, and they are not seen as cool or cutting edge by millennials. These beliefs are outdated and untrue. Manufacturing jobs need a public relations makeover. And the sooner the better.
It’s refreshing to see that others are becoming promoters of manufacturing jobs for the next generation of machinists and welders. On a national level, Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs is a national voice for the next generation of blue-collar talent; however, he is only one voice and cannot shift the negative stigma of manufacturing or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs alone.
At the local level, some manufacturer’s associations and community colleges are attempting to get the word out to young people and their parents about career opportunities in the skilled trade’s arena. More still needs to be done.
One savvy entrepreneur believes there is a way to introduce and educate millennials to today’s manufacturing and STEM careers, which utilize cutting edge technology, have clean room settings, and major job potential. Harry Kurtz, president of Triune Specialty Trailers in Madison Heights, has created a business model that takes the manufacturing environment out of the plant and delivers it to schools, community centers, and practically anywhere that a tractor-trailer can be parked.
Kurtz specializes in building mobile marketing and educational centers. These are hands-on road shows contained within an 18-wheeler. These “3-D press kits,” as Kurtz likes to call them, expand to 22 feet when set up, creating almost 1,000 square feet of experiential learning space. Wrapped in bright, colorful eye-catching graphics, the mobile trucks draw the attention of both kids and adults alike.
He has two versions: one version is used to inform and teach people about the benefits of STEM careers. His company built an experiential, educational awareness, and outreach trailer, with an emphasis on a career path in welding with the American Welding Society. This rolling interactive exhibit can appear at a school and can be toured by hundreds of students in one day. Inside, they interact with a virtual simulated welding station to see how welding is done. The students also receive information about careers in welding; including stats like there will be a need for 310,000 new and replacement welding professionals by 2019. The vehicle was recently featured on the Jay Leno’s Garage television show.
The second version that Kurtz and Triune build is a full-blown training school on wheels. One such vehicle is Northern Michigan’s Mobile CNC Digital FAB LAB.
Born out of the need for more skilled computer numerical control operators in rural, northern Michigan, the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance joined forces with local manufacturers and North Central Michigan College and developed the idea for a self-contained Mobile Digital CNC Training Lab. The college owns and operates the mobile training lab and staffs it with a teaching professional. The “FAB LAB” includes 13 state-of-the-art computer stations with CAD/CAM programs, as well as a CNC controlled mill and lathe.
Designed to address work force training needs, the mobile CNC lab approaches the solution with both a short-term and long-term solution. In the short term, companies can have immediate access to vital CNC training right in their parking lots. This saves money and time as companies can work with the instructor on specific training needs and rotate employees’ right from shifts, rather than have them travel long distances for similar training.
In the long term, as the mobile CNC lab is used in area high schools and colleges, this will fill the pipelines in the future with people with the skills needed to work in today’s high tech manufacturing companies. This type of vehicle is right on point with Kurtz’s vision to expand classroom learning at the school but not in the school.
The next step in Kurtz’s vision is to create a mobile National STEM Immersion Experience around the United States. Starting in Michigan, he would like to see a fleet of self-contained, 53-foot, double-expandable STEM Immersion Experience mobile learning centers sent directly to individual schools sites. The mobile modules would be designed to display grade-level based integrated STEM curriculum via hands-on (and “minds-on!”) exhibits, replica artifact displays and integrated, multimedia-driven technology.
The primary educational goals of this program would be to:
- Provide student visitors with memorable, immersive learning experiences,
- Provide teachers with professional development and instructional skills, and
- Deliver formative information and encouragement about STEM skills and STEM careers.
Rather than looking for others to overcome the negative perception of manufacturing careers, Kurtz is choosing to educate and inspire school children.
Todd Palmer is founder and president of Troy-based Diversified Industrial Staffing and Diversified PEOple LLC and a regular contributor to DBusiness.