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Other Voices: Resuscitating the manufacturing industry with an infusion of fresh blood

The next generation of manufacturing professionals will not find and fill the industry's jobs without impassioned effort from the old guard.

Editor’s Note: The following column by Larissa Hofman, director of communications for Edge Factor, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


From David Bowie to Harper Lee, Alan Rickman to Carrie Fisher, the world said goodbye last year to tremendously talented people with ambitious entrepreneurial spirits, many of whom approached their work with an attitude of “good is never good enough.” I can’t help but wonder: 40 years from now, who will we mourn for? What type of legacies will today’s millennials leave us with?

In the world of design, technology and advanced manufacturing, the opportunities to leave a lasting legacy are astounding. Companies that create everything from planes to drums, cameras to self driving cars are all in desperate need of the same thing: For the next generation of innovative dreamers to carry the torch, to dream, to invent, to create and ultimately, to usher in “the new normal.”

But we are faced with the harsh reality that unless something radically changes, an estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be left unfilled by 2020. The legacies and future of North American manufacturing companies – especially small and medium sized businesses – are in jeopardy. Too few are entering the workforce.

The manufacturing industry is like a patient in critical condition, being rushed from an ambulance into the hospital ER. The patient is lifted off the stretcher and put on a bed, as doctors and nurses yell, “Code Blue! Grab the resuscitation paddles! The patient’s fading!” But who will answer their call? Who will actually grab the paddles?! Where is the team who is willing to cut the patient’s clothes off to discover where the real problem areas are? Who will stop the bleeding? Who is charging those paddles and trumpeting, “CLEAR!” to revive our industry’s heartbeat? For the last five years, I have worked side by side with Jeremy Bout, the Founder of Edge Factor, cultivating a team of people who hold those CPR paddles every day and jolt manufacturing communities, educational programs and workforce development initiatives with as much force as our machine can muster.

Edge Factor is a leader in providing cinematic, story-driven media and supporting resources to inspire the next generation of makers. We have witnessed the magic that happens when students take ideas from their heads, connect them with their hands and use technology to bring them to life. Based on Edge Factor’s cinematic films and TV series, we launched a “Netflix-style” distribution platform of cinematic media and story-driven, interactive resources called eduFACTOR, to equip educators and business leaders with tools to connect with their communities. Edge Factor stories serve as the catalysts for inspiration and the accompanying resources and interactive activities empower people to make science, technology, engineering, architecture and mathematics (STEAM) relevant for students. These resources help market Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, teach career pathways from career clusters, build hands-on projects, host engaging events, and much more.

As a data-driven team, Edge Factor operates with a structured freedom to push the boundaries of creative solutions regionally and nationally. Edge Factor partners with some of the biggest brands in the world and has built a reputation for accomplishing audacious goals with measured outcomes. We have schools and companies in 43 states and eight provinces using these resources to move the needle and inspire students, parents, educators and business leaders.

So how can you grab the resuscitation paddles to impact your community?

1. Build bridges
Connect with industry leaders, schools, economic and workforce development associations, and organizations in your local area. Learn about the initiatives that are currently in place. What’s working and what’s not? Ask yourself if there is a way that you can get involved and build bridges between the silos in your region. You are stronger together! One of the simplest ways to inspire students as an industry leader is to actually build a relationship with local schools, participate in their events and career fairs and share your story.

2. Share your story
Please stop trying to change students’ perceptions of manufacturing. After meeting thousands of students, and as a millennial myself, I can tell you that when students hear the word “manufacturing” they do not conjure up negative images of child labor in Asia or closed facilities in Detroit. The reality is that most students are not thinking about manufacturing at all, and have no perception, negative or otherwise of what a career in manufacturing looks like. They are far more concerned with the Kardashians, Snapchat, or Pokemon Go. Instead of talking about what manufacturing is not, talk about what it is! Connect with your local school. Share the story of the company you work for, talk about some of the careers and interesting technology your company uses, show students a few of the components you create and explain how it relates to their lives. Take this opportunity to instill some employability and life skills as well, by sharing what you look for when you consider hiring new team members.

3. Create lasting impact
Consider sponsoring your local school with an eduFACTOR membership. Give your local teachers the tools they need to show how STEAM and dreams come alive in advanced manufacturing careers. Introduce technology and highlight career pathways that students can take to launch an extraordinary future in the industry that builds our world.

4. Reach parents
Parents have seen the manufacturing industry go through some tough times. Manufacturing is not the dark, dirty and dangerous industry they are used to picturing. Designed for educators and business leaders to receive metrics to measure impact, eduFACTOR resources are implemented in classrooms, at events, and in homes to open conversations between parents and their children and make significant strides in changing parents’ antiquated perceptions of manufacturing.

5. Open your doors
Host a Manufacturing Day event and invite families and local schools to meet your team and discover what you create behind closed doors.

As we look to the next generation and wonder who will pick up our mantle, who will take what we have accomplished and innovate to push back the limits of what’s possible, we have to assume it will be the people we ourselves inspire. Don’t call for someone else to grab those CPR paddles. Pick up the resources you have and deliver the greatest shot of electricity – right into the heart of your manufacturing community.

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