Getting youngsters to spend a week or two at a “manufacturing camp” this summer might be a big step toward easing the skills crunch facing so many plants and shops in the United States these days. A surprising number of these camps, which are scattered across the country, will be open this June and July. What makes these camps so promising is that they appeal to kids at an age when becoming aware of careers in manufacturing can really make a difference. You should think about promoting these camps and supporting them as a volunteer or donor.
Most, if not all, of these camps are the “day” kind—no overnight stays in a cabin or tent—and they usually take place at community colleges or local technical schools. Some camps are specifically geared to the 12- to 14-year-old age bracket, but others target teenagers a few years older. Typically, the camps involve hands-on activities that take a manufacturing project from design to finished “product” (something to take home, show off and be proud of). Many of the camps are designed to introduce CAD, CNC programming and machining, welding or fabrication. Tours of nearby shops and factories are usually part of the week’s program.
All of these camps seem to share the same general goals: to make young people aware of the importance of manufacturing, to make the campers interested in manufacturing as a career option, to show how learning about math and science is great preparation for jobs in manufacturing or engineering and to let the kids have a good time. One of the main lessons these camps convey is that inventing, designing and producing things can be fun.
Of course, these manufacturing camps are not going to provide the machinists, CNC programmers, welders and manufacturing engineers who can replace the ones soon to retire or who are needed to support growing manufacturing enterprises—at least not right away. One of the big problems that full-fledged, secondary and post-secondary training programs or apprenticeships have is being able to attract qualified, motivated participants. So often, recruiters find that potential candidates are already turned off to manufacturing because of false impressions of the industry or because other, seemingly more glamorous or rewarding career paths are perceived as better choices. Teenagers who’ve been to a manufacturing camp will have a clearer picture of what manufacturing is really like. These young people are bound to be more responsive to opportunities for training programs and jobs in our industry.