Manufacturing is facing a skills gap. This is not new knowledge for those of us in the sector.
We’ve all seen or heard about Deloitte’s report that predicts 4.6 million job openings will be available from 2018-2028, and only 2.2 million of those openings will be filled. At the same time, the skills gap continues to expand with no simple answer as to why.
I have heard several opinions over the last few years including:
- Misconceptions of manufacturing being dirty, dark, dull, and dangerous.
- Misperceptions that manufacturing has nothing to offer in terms of meaningful careers that make a difference in this world.
- A lack of opportunities, especially in smaller communities, for hands-on experience.
While several things need to happen to change the negative stereotypes that exist around manufacturing and to restore interest and talent allocation, businesses and educational institutions need to invest in opportunities that focus on developing the right skill sets for manufacturing.
Investing in Project-Based Learning and Internships
In a recent episode of Mavens of Manufacturing, I interviewed Bethany Mead, Community Outreach Coordinator for CEANCI. CEANCI, or Career Education Associates of North Central Illinois, is a federally funded education for employment office. Its strategic plan involves two major objectives:
- Supporting districts to create a series of connected education courses that transition to postsecondary and other training.
- Ensuring students navigate through a distinct set of experiences focused on learning about work, learning through work, and learning for work.
One of Beth’s responsibilities includes finding business partners that will help prepare local students for the workforce through:
- Project-based competitions
- Mock interviews with local manufacturing businesses
- Tours of local manufacturing facilities including National Manufacturing Day
- Project-based learning (PBL), apprenticeships, and internships
The opportunities above directly expose students to real-life working environments where they can gain experience; improve and expand on both their hard and soft skills; and build their confidence when applying for jobs.
Benefits of Hands-On and Project-Based Learning
There are several benefits to hands-on learning and project-based learning for both the employer and the student that lead them to be the best type of learning opportunities.
Benefits for the Student
- Collaboration: PBL creates a collaborative environment between students, teachers, and members of the community. Students learn how to work better in groups while gaining insight for careers and other opportunities.
- Problem Solving: Learning from failure is essential for continuous improvement. PBL enables students to more effectively solve the problems that are important to them.
- Creativity: Having hands-on experience allows students to tap into their creativity and develop innovative solutions and product designs.
- In-Depth Understanding: PBL provides students opportunities to conduct in-depth research and deepen their learning of applied content.
- Self-Confidence: Connecting and collaborating with other students and members of the community enables students to take pride in their projects and promote their sense of purpose.
- Critical Thinking: With an increased sense of confidence, students are more comfortable asking questions and thinking critically for possible solutions.
- Perseverance: Students learn how to manage obstacles and unexpected challenges more effectively.
- Project Management: Students learn about time management and how to govern their projects and assignments more efficiently.
- Curiosity: Hands-on experiences allow students to explore their interests and curiosities.
- Empowerment: PBL enables students to take ownership of their accomplishments and failures and to be proud with both.
Benefits for the Employer
- Future Employees: PBL and other hands-on learning opportunities provide employers with a recruiting tool for future, full-time employees.
- Brand Visibility: Internships, apprenticeships, and PBL opportunities get local businesses connected with their surrounding community and educational institutions. These connections provide brand exposure for businesses’ products and services.
- Talent Evaluation: Employers can evaluate someone’s potential of being a full-time employee through hands-on learning projects and internships.
- Increased Productivity: High-quality interns contribute to the overall productivity and success of the company they are interning for.
- Enhance Perspective: Students bring fresh ideas to the table. Including them in brainstorm sessions allows them to ask questions that full-time employees may not ask.
- Low-Cost Labor Advantage: Some internships can be credit-based. Those that are paid are relatively low compared to a full-time employee’s wage.
- Community Outreach: Working with students preps them for the real world by developing and improving their hard and soft skill sets. It also enhances the local workforce and encourages the community to support local businesses and organizations.
- Skills Gap: PBL allows future grads to hit the ground running once they complete their schooling.
- Latest Techniques and Technology: Employers have a chance to learn what the students are learning in terms of cutting-edge strategies, techniques, and technology.
- Social Media Outreach: With everyone being social media savvy these days, students can build a company’s following by posting the projects they are working on.
- Leadership Skills of Current Employees: Current employees can be assigned to mentor and supervise students, providing them training for an upcoming management position.
- Improve Work Environment: Students’ natural curiosity makes them enthusiastic, motivated, and positive–this work ethic and positivity improves the overall work culture.
In conclusion, project-based opportunities create a learning environment that engages students, connects them to mentors and future employers, and provides them the skills necessary to be successful in the career pathway they pursue.
Students gain exposure to careers they may not have heard of or even knew existed. The manufacturing sector has so many opportunities that require a combination of high-quality soft and hard skills, but the pool of talent is decreasing. PBL enables companies to connect with the next generation of manufacturers, pique their interest, and eventually welcome them as part of their team.
Watch the full interview here.
To learn more about CEANCI visit, https://ceanci.org.
 Tina Shaffer, “10 Benefits of Progress Based Learning,” Destination Imagination (2018).
 “14 Benefits of Starting an Internship Program for your Company,” Chegg Internships (2019).