With school back in full swing, the team at Techgen Media was inspired to celebrate the educators and institutions that play a critical role in shaping the next generation of skilled manufacturers. Not only are they imparting the knowledge, skills and expertise necessary for their students to excel in the industry, they teach them the essentials needed to succeed no matter what path in life they may take. They teach problem-solving skills and critical thinking while preparing their students to be adaptable to the ever-changing job world.
As far as Techgen is concerned, manufacturing educators seem to do it all: They offer hands-on training and, in turn, present career opportunities to individuals that may not be interested in or suited for traditional four-year colleges. They fill the gap between education and employment thanks to the tailored programs they create for local employers. And, because of those programs, they help students enter the workforce sooner to start earning a living wage.
These educators and their associated schools are also lifting up the labor market and the overall economy. Responding to the evolving needs of employers, they adapt their curriculums and programs to address emerging technologies and ensure that their graduates have the skills they need. After all, a well-trained workforce is vital for economic growth and competitiveness.
And, if that weren’t enough, manufacturing educators and schools open their doors to everyone. Even though the word “student” is often associated with young people, these schools provide opportunities for students of all ages, often helping adults and other workers acquire new skills or retraining them for new and different careers.
The job of an educator, however, isn’t always a glamorous one. Therefore, recognizing them and celebrating their work not only boosts morale but also underscores the important role they play in shaping the future of manufacturing. With thousands of vocational schools, technical colleges and trade schools across the country, trying to thank each and every one of them is an impossible task. So, to do our part, we’re putting a spotlight on a few institutions across the country while encouraging our readers to show their appreciation, as well.
For the business owners in our readership: We urge you show your gratitude by establishing partnerships with the schools in your area. You can support their efforts by volunteering time, resources, equipment and materials or by donating funds for scholarships. For those that might not be in the position to contribute finances or resources, it can be as simple as thanking a teacher for the work they do. Be it in person or on social media, let’s all take a moment to recognize their hard work. Without them, the future of the industry might not be as certain.
West is best
Even though the gold rush might be long over, the western region of the United States is rich in manufacturing activities. Comprised of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, West Coast manufacturers contribute substantially to the country’s overall economic growth. On its own, California would be ranked as the fifth largest economy in the world if it were a standalone country.
Out west, manufacturers and fabricators benefit from a strategic location on or near the Pacific Ocean, which offers them greater access to international markets. These businesses are knee deep in technology, aerospace and defense, shipbuilding and automotive manufacturing and rely greatly on the educators and schools that produce the skilled workforce they need.
Like the businesses they support, the vocational and trade schools of the West Coast come in a variety of shapes and forms. While most are considered private schools, some are for-profit while others are not. Workshops for Warriors, which falls in the latter category, is a special school that Techgen is happy to tip our hat to time and time again. State-licensed, board-governed and fully audited, the school trains, certifies and places veterans, wounded warriors and transitioning service members into fruitful careers in advanced manufacturing all over the West Coast and beyond.
Workshops for Warriors caught Techgen’s attention more than a decade ago, and like our call to action, Hernán Luis y Prado, the school’s founder, asks community and business leaders to establish partnerships with his school to help in his efforts. Running a school comes with a host of expenses, but solving the skills gap and giving purpose and dignity back to America’s service men and women is priceless.
“When you’re a nonprofit, you’re literally surviving due to the kindness of strangers,” Luis y Prado explained to Techgen in 2017. “We only survive based on philanthropy, private donors and manufacturing companies that want to donate. The longer you’re around, the longer you have a track record. And people like to donate to someone with a track record.”
Luis y Prado’s school offers six advanced manufacturing programs, including CNC machining and training, and features top-of-the-line machinery from several prominent equipment manufacturers with locations out west. To thank him for his dedication to the industry and to U.S. veterans, Techgen named him as our Manufacturing Person of the Year in 2017. You can read his story here, but you can also support Workshops for Warriors by heading to the website and learning more about the mission and the various ways to help.
The heart of the nation
Often referred to as the “Rust Belt,” the Midwest has long been a significant hub for manufacturing activities. Comprised of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, the region has a strong historical foundation for this type of work, leading Americans to look to Midwesterners for their cars and farm equipment as well as a wide variety of medical devices. Steel, of course, is made in the heartland as is a wide array of military vehicles.
Like their neighbors to the west, the Midwest benefits from its location. Centrally located and with access to major waterways like the Great Lakes make it ideal for shipping and distributing products across the country and beyond. A robust availability of raw materials and natural resources, including coal, iron ore and limestone, further supports manufacturing activities in the area.
Although the Midwest traditionally has had a skilled and experienced workforce in manufacturing, there is still a major need for trade and vocational educators. Throughout time, the manufacturing landscape has evolved due to a variety of factors and consumer demand, but today, shifts in the type of employment Americans want to pursue is also a contributing factor.
Terri Sandu, director of talent and business innovation at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) in Ohio, has a deep understanding of the ever-evolving manufacturing industry and the challenges it faces in recruiting skilled workers. As the director of Ohio TechNet, a consortium of more than 40 community colleges, universities and technical centers, she focuses much of her attention on solving the skills gap through the opportunities afforded by attending the many Ohio schools she represents.
Using the Ohio TechNet mission as her guide, Sandu oversees a variety of initiatives to support workforce development as well as the academic professionals at Ohio educational institutions. During her tenure as director, she has cultivated partnerships with some of the industry’s most productive organizations.
That short list of partners includes Wise Pathways, a program designed for women to learn about in-demand careers such as those in manufacturing; the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, which is delivering Ohio TechNet’s members with a program that helps teachers get certified to teach automation and robotics; and Manufacturing USA, the umbrella for a network of groups bringing industry, academia and government together to boost U.S. manufacturing competitiveness. Overall, Ohio TechNet serves as navigator for its members to find and take advantage of the multitude of programs around the state and nationwide.
“We often say that Ohio TechNet doesn’t do things; it’s our members that do things,” Sandu says. “Ohio TechNet is a collaborative infrastructure that helps our member institutions do what they need to do and do it faster. There’s a lot of peer-to-peer support for incubating new ideas and strategies and then figuring out the kinks. So we’ve become like a system-wide collaborative R&D unit for our manufacturing workforce.”
Describing Sandu’s roles at LCCC and Ohio TechNet as multi-faceted doesn’t even scratch the surface of what she’s been tasked to do for her state. There’s a lot riding on her organization’s success. After all, a healthy manufacturing community in Ohio – and in the Midwest – plays a vital role in the regional and national economy, providing jobs, supporting other industries and contributing to the overall strength of the United States. And, with the announcement of new semiconductor facilities in Ohio, a skilled workforce will be increasingly critical.
Down south, manufacturing has been a key driver for economic growth in the United States, as well. Comprised of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Virginia, the southern states have long been involved in automotive, aerospace and defense, energy and shipbuilding. And, in recent years, activity has been gaining more steam as automotive manufacturers continue to set up shop there and as new greenfield projects have been announced by companies like Ford Motor Co. to support their ambitions in establishing facilities for electric vehicle (EV) production.
Adding a lower cost of living to the region’s strategic location and access to major transportation routes serves as a major draw for manufacturers like those in the automotive sector. The Southern United States is also rich in energy resources, particularly oil, natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. This has led to a growth in energy-related manufacturing, including equipment and components for energy production, distribution and storage.
Focusing on the massive amount of oil and gas work happening in the coastal states off the Gulf of Mexico, welders are in incredibly high demand. They are, of course, needed everywhere – the American Welding Society projects that United States will need 360,000 welders by 2027 – but for folks in the south, jobs like “underwater welder” are a real and exciting prospect.
At Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., students can prepare for a wide range of advanced manufacturing careers with a multitude of certifications available. However, for those interested in welding, Jason Becker is an instructor like no other. Featured on the cover of Welding Productivity’s January 2021 issue, Becker is also the host of the popular podcast, Arc Junkies.
As mentioned in the article, “His bio on the Arc Junkies website describes him as a welder/fabricator with 23 years of hands-on experience, a Marine Corp. veteran, an American Welding Society (AWS) certified welding inspector and certified welding educator (CWI/CWE) and a full-time educator at Valencia College in Florida where he’s managed the welding program since 2016.”
On the other side of the southern region, about 1,200 miles from Orlando, students are also preparing for careers in welding at one of the most well-known and largest educational institutions for the trade: Tulsa Welding School (TWS) in Tulsa, Okla. Each year, more than 600 individuals graduate from a variety of programs at the school, including TWS’s Associate of Occupational Studies in Welding Technology program, to enter fulfilling jobs across the region and, in fact, the world.
East Coast state of mind
Heading north, the Mid-Atlantic and New England states continue to exhibit incredibly diverse manufacturing. Comprised of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the Northeast region of the United States is known for its high-tech and electronics manufacturing – think Bell Labs and General Electric. This sector produces computers, semiconductors, telecommunications equipment and other electronic components, but the region as a whole is also known for manufacturing in a variety of areas, including aerospace and defense, automotive and transportation, and general fabrication.
Similar to their friends on the other side of the country, manufacturers in the Northeast benefit from their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the international trade and export opportunities the area provides. The region exports a range of manufactured goods globally, enhancing its economic ties with other countries and fostering international business relationships.
Some of the best schools and universities in the country, if not the world, are located in the Northeast, which has propelled the region to the forefront of technological advancements and innovations in manufacturing. High-tech sectors such as electronics and aerospace drive innovation, research and development, positioning the region as a global leader in these fields. This equation adds up to a talent pool well-suited for the specialized needs of the area’s manufacturing industries. Schools like Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) in Springfield, Mass., are ensuring the talent pool continues to be robust and ready for the manufacturing needs of the region’s future.
“We teach design, manufacturing and quality, what we refer to as the three legs of the stool,” says Tom Minor, a full-time instructor and curriculum coordinator for STCC’s mechanical engineering technology department. “If you want to go from an idea in your head to a finished product in your hand, those are the three phases. Students at STCC can pursue a two-year associate’s degree that focuses on the three legs of that stool, but we also offer a CNC certificate that is aimed at the manufacturing side of the equation and getting students employment as quickly as possible.”
Oftentimes, STCC students will start in the certificate program, get that credential and then a job in the field. From there, Minor says their employers are often willing to pay for them to finish the remainder of the two-year program to earn an associate’s degree. Beyond those opportunities, STCC also has transfer agreements with participating universities that allow students to then pursue a four-year degree. “We’re big on the stackable credential model to meet the student where they’re at and help them progress from there,” he says.
Leneisha Dominicci-Rosario, who is also a full-time instructor and curriculum coordinator for STCC’s mechanical engineering technology department, says that many students that choose to attend are attracted to the school’s approach to hands-on learning. “When they see that everything is hands-on, not just writing a process down on a piece of paper in a classroom setting, it helps them to better consider what their future could look like.”
Part of the reason that STCC is so dialed in to what today’s students need is thanks to the school’s advisory board, which is comprised of industry partners and local employers. An example of how the advisory board interacts with STCC is seen in the type of software that students learn to use throughout the school’s courses. SolidWorks, Mastercam, VariCAD and Calypso were all selected because of industry demand in the local area.
“Our curriculum continues to be fresh because employers are constantly telling us what they need,” Minor concludes.
Truly, no matter the school or its location in our great nation, these educators and institutions play a crucial role in preparing the workforce for in-demand jobs. As reshoring increases and as companies around the globe look to the United States for their new factories and facilities, we will need to lean on them for their economic support even further. The gratitude we can offer them today and tomorrow will hopefully go a long way moving forward.