If you are reading this publication, you no doubt have some stake in tomorrow's skilled technical workforce. We all are aware that action is desperately needed to increase the dwindling number of graduates who are technically proficient and interested in careers in manufacturing. My unique perspective as both an employer and a provider of technical training systems allows me to keep track of new and innovative educational options springing up throughout the country. There are some bright spots out there.
One such new program is located in Burley, Idaho, a primarily agricultural area in the southern part of the state. It sounds like an unlikely place for a manufacturing technology center, but it now has the state's first regional technical center with a new, separate building housing state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. Burley's long-range planning committee recognized the need for a skilled, technical workforce to support both large agricultural processing plants and smaller job shops in the area. A new curriculum was developed, the search for funding began, and the cooperative effort has paid off. Open houses, student and parent tours, and word of mouth have increased enrollment.
Another bright spot exists in Palm Beach County, Florida. It probably doesn't strike you as an area that would be suffering labor shortages in manufacturing, but new technical education facilities and programs are generating enthusiasm among students and teachers alike. In this case, the school district's vision is that technology affects our daily lives in many ways and includes much more than computers. Incorporating problem-solving teaching strategies and applied learning, these new teaching strategies are both encouraging and rewarding for students. The county has a three-year staff development plan and has already seen increased enrollment. Good teachers attract and inspire good students.
A third bright spot exists in Springfield, Missouri. In this case, the entire initiative was teacher-inspired. An industrial arts teacher by training, this teacher was running both secondary and post-secondary machine shop programs from a regional technical center. Enrollments were down to 12 high school and 15 college students when the instructor decided it was time to change or close the program. He began his investigation into new technology at the national VICA competition, discovering the Automated Manufacturing Contest, a combination of CAD, CAM and CNC skills. What followed was a local survey of employment opportunities, self-education on the new technologies, a search for grants and funding, and preparation of all the paperwork to put a five-year plan into practice. This instructor feels that promises of employment don't attract young people—his exciting projects attract them to programs. His classes are now project-based and fully enrolled.
So you see, there are many ways to attack our workforce shortage. People are listening to the warnings and doing something about it, singlehandedly, with community and local industry support. The results are encouraging, but we need more involvement from industry professionals, educators, administrators, guidance counselors and parents. Get involved, send students to the IMTS 2000 Student Summit, and let them experience the excitement of our industry! It moves, it spins, it's HOT!