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Contest gets a new generation interested in manufacturing

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A lot has been written lately about the skills gap in manufacturing and the lack of a talented pipeline of skilled workers entering the industry. This problem is and will continue to slow the growth at many of our local manufacturers.

Solving this problem first requires changing the outdated, negative stereotypes about manufacturing that impede students and job seekers from being introduced to the clean transferable family-sustaining careers that today’s manufacturing offers. These mid-high level skilled jobs include machinists, welders and high tech maintenance jobs.

There is no silver bullet that can fix this outdated image that some parents, teachers and students have, but we must start with making everyone aware what a job in manufacturing is like today and the great benefits that are available.

This is exactly what a Pennsylvania grant – awarded to a local team from the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute, Da Vinci Science Center and the Manufacturers Resource Center – is doing. The early successes over the first six months are changing people’s impressions throughout the Lehigh Valley.

The first phase of the grant has been very successful in having discussions and awareness programs with 15 superintendents and more than 150 guidance counselors and teachers in the school districts throughout Lehigh and Northampton counties. There is near unanimous agreement that manufacturing is a viable career choice, and the three excellent career and technical schools in the Valley can provide the needed tools for a successful career.

The real question now is how to make manufacturing attractive and “cool” in the eyes of students in eighth and ninth grades so that career and technical schools are on their radar.

The idea became a reality early this summer with the development of the “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” video competition. This program is a first of its kind and will feature eighth grade teams made up of four or five students and a teacher coach.

These teams will plan, shoot and edit a one- to two-minute video about what the team believes is cool about a local manufacturing company. It could be the jobs, the products or the culture of the company, and we are letting the teams come up with their own impressions and experiences.

The video competition already is starting to change the image of manufacturing among students. As these teams recognize the relevance these innovative jobs have to their world, they will communicate a more accurate view about manufacturing to their peers, parents and teachers.

Over the summer, local media professionals from eMedia Works used students to produce a two-minute video prototype at Martin Guitar in Nazareth and four instructional videos to help the student teams with their projects. All of these videos can be seen on this website: www.dreamitdoitpa.com.

The formal kickoff of the contest occurred Sept. 23 at PBS-TV 39 in Bethlehem, where 19 student teams and coaches from 16 school districts were paired with 19 local manufacturers.

Video equipment has been purchased and donated to the school districts, courtesy of community contributors, so students can gain exposure from professionals and learn how to shoot, edit and produce videos.

The videos will be shot at each manufacturing company in October and edited in November. Then a “Video Academy Awards” event will be held in January at the Da Vinci Science Center for students, parents, schools, manufacturers and sponsors. A group of judges will decide individual awards, and the “Best of the Valley” award will be determined by an open vote where the entire Lehigh Valley will be able to vote online.

There are two outcomes that will result from this contest. First is the awareness the younger generation and the entire Valley will gain from the exposure to great local manufacturers and what life and a career are like at these companies.

The second is the partnership that is being developed between the school districts and the manufacturing companies. Industry must become a full partner to prepare young adults for success.

One thing learned from this grant is that schools want industry to be deeply engaged in many ways at an earlier stage in the education cycle.

For middle schools, companies can do job shadowing, tours and career counseling. In high schools, industry can work hand-in-hand with the schools for work-based learning and problem solving and the development of internship programs.

There is a lot being done and much more to do. A sustainable model must be found to take over after the grant runs out. The new model will be a win-win solution when students are engaged in real world situations and industry has access to a trained pipeline of future employees with job related experiences.

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