GRAND RAPIDS, MI—In an effort to get students to hear it, touch it, smell it, local advanced manufacturing companies have gone all in on making it accessible to the public and students. As a part of the National Manufacturing Week, local area companies have created visits and experiences that will energize a youthful base to pursue an industry in dire need of a refresh.
The economic crisis of the last decade, there was a severe drop off of labor in the advanced manufacturing industry. Layoffs cut the core of a younger labor market, leaving the experienced laborers, both skilled and unskilled to carry forward. Now that the West Michigan area is well into an economic recovery, business for the manufacturers, both large and small, is picking up, but now there is a shortage of laborers, specifically a new generation to carry forward in the industry. Manufacturing Week has evolved in the past few years to become a much larger recruiting tool with companies providing a robust experience in a few hours to show students, who considering all the options for careers, the myriad options and variety of work that they can get involved in locally. This included introductions into positions that both required a college degree and also those that were available right out of high school.
Students from the Academy of Modern Engineering @ Innovation Central HS and from the Academy for Design & Construction @ Innovation Central HS participated in a day-long experience that brought them to Gill Industries and Enterprise Too & Die. The tour at Gill along with the simulation to help clarify the concept of lean manufacturing through a hands-on activity helped students understand collaboration, waste and the need to be leaner in this market to maximize the company’s potential. At Enterprise Tool & Die, the students had more opportunities to “play in the sandbox”. Doug Groom, CEO of Enterprise, sees value in the exposure his company gets, but more importantly for him the exposure the students get to the industry that has brought him much success. His employees has made a puzzle with gears and sprockets that allowed the students to stretch their minds and think collaboratively. Mr. Groom had partnered with GRCC’s M-Tech to bring their mobile Advanced Manufacturing trailer with a 3-D printer, a lathe and a CNC router on site for the students to see, as well as a few welding simulation stations that allowed attendees to try their hand as creating a MIG weld. All this, in addition to the conversations the students had with true professionals (in every sense of the word), was a wonderful way to explore careers in the setting that may interest them.
Being able to hear the pounding of the One Ton press and feel the reverberation of the pulse through their legs, watching the tube bending machine bend steel into shapes in a split second, and having a lingering smell of metal after handling a die cut by a water jet is an experience we cannot replicate in the classroom- but one that is thankfully provided by the generosity of our partners who continue to improve the ability to attract young talent to the industry.