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5 lessons for preparing students for manufacturing careers

5 min read

Career-Technical Education

After nearly a decade working with 400 schools — from high schools to community colleges — to help train and develop the next generation of manufacturers, I have met many inspiring instructors and administrators who are making a difference when it comes to workforce development.

Today we are seeing collaboration like never before between manufacturers, government groups, academic institutions and other partners to prepare students for good-paying careers in digitally driven, clean environments so that they are ready to innovate and break new ground for their companies — and our country.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned from working with educators that may help your academic institution create and sustain winning programs:

  1. Create a strong advisory committee. The most progressive schools have a well-rounded advisory group comprised of industry partners and leaders that advise them on the content and direction of their program. Typically a mix of small/medium and large manufacturers, these committees can help with funding, securing new equipment, recommending technology, getting support of the school system, job placements/co-op opportunities and building awareness of your program. The more these leaders get to know you and your program, the more they become advocates to help your program flourish. There is a bonus for them, too, as they have direct access to an important pipeline of skilled workers.
  2. Build strong local partnerships. Leverage the success and expertise of those around you to help your program. Comparing notes and learning from other’s experiences has great value. Other schools have likely faced similar challenges with enrollment, funding and more, and can provide helpful insight. For instance, in Ohio, schools participating in Skills USA have a regional meeting where the instructors talk about topics such as what is working and how to overcome challenges to make their students stronger. Look for connections through regional skills contests or through other associations and groups in your area. LinkedIn is a valuable resource for finding groups. Also, talk with your vendors and find out who in the area has a similar program and if they know of any conferences that may be good for you to attend.
  3. Don’t be shy: Share the good news. Many schools have amazing accomplishments — from placing 100% of their students in local jobs to seeing their students take a gold medal at the National Skills USA competition. Success begets success, and the community needs to know about it. Certain schools do this well by creating news releases about students’ accomplishments and working with industry partners to get the word out. Celebrate your successes, and your program may be featured in your daily paper like Kaukauna High School, which has placed 600-plus students in good-paying manufacturing positions, or on Edge Factor which featured one of Maricopa, Ariz., Skills Center’s students. This visibility helps attract students and their parents, recruit advisory members and interest local manufacturers who want to hire your students.
  4. Enlist students to spread the word. It’s a social world and students of all ages like to talk about their experiences in person or via social media. By tapping into your most enthusiastic and positive students, you can offer them as “ambassadors” to those considering attending your school. Yes, sometimes students respect another student’s opinion over that of instructors! These “stars” can talk about different classes, the flexibility of 24/7 access through online training courses, lead tours and more. Many instructors also stay in touch with recent graduates, inviting them back to talk with classes about their experiences in the workplace or asking them to participate in an advisory role. These former students are direct ties to manufacturers looking for a skilled workforce, which is great news for your students. Without a doubt, staying connected to current and former students helps attract that next generation of manufacturers.
  5. Share those metrics. Parents sometimes need convincing that manufacturing provides the opportunities of a long-term career. It is important to emphasize success metrics such as placement rates, postsecondary education and pay rates for your specific program/area. Post these on your website, use metrics in your marketing materials, share via social media, etc. This reinforces that students are starting careers, not jobs.

Modern-day manufacturing has come a long way in 30 years, and working with partners that have a vested interest in the viability and success of your program helps you recruit students and grow your program. Most importantly, this helps students appreciate that manufacturing is an exciting, high-tech field with extraordinary opportunities to learn, problem solve and advance to new levels.

Toni Neary is an educational specialist for the Government and Education Group of Tooling U-SME, an industry leader in manufacturing training and development. This group provides a unique perspective to educators, bringing knowledge and relationships from both its corporate side of the business, which works with more than half of all Fortune® 500 manufacturing companies, as well as its sister organization, the SME Education Foundation. Tooling U-SME can be found at, or follow @ToolingU on Twitter.

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