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High Schools Revamp Manufacturing Programs to Meet Need for Machinists

High Schools Revamp Manufacturing Programs to Meet Need for Mechanists

High schools across the United States are responding to a need for machinists, welders, and other technicians by revamping their manufacturing programs.

The schools will model their programs after Germany's apprenticeship-focused version, "encouraging students to participate in lab-based classes and matching them to on-the-job training," said an article on USA Today.

The article begins by reflecting on a school in Illinois and student Javier Tamayo who landed a job after graduating from Wheeling High School's manufacturing program.

"Wheeling has been turning out hire-ready manufacturing workers like Tamayo for six years," the article said. "It's one of a growing number of U.S. high schools that have launched or revived manufacturing programs in recent years to guide students toward good-paying jobs and help fill a critical shortage of skilled machinists, welders and maintenance technicians."

Over the past three decades, the article said, "manufacturing courses were dropped from vocational education programs as the industry declined" and no one tracks how many high schools offer them now."

A new project titled, Project Lead the Way, the article said, "creates high school engineering and technology curricula, says one manufacturing class it designed for Wheeling is offered in about 800 schools — nearly twice as many as in 2009."

"The training targets a glaring imbalance in the labor market," the article said. "Despite high unemployment since the recession, manufacturers still struggle to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings. Since bottoming out in February 2010, employment at U.S. factories has risen by 700,000 to 12.1 million, recouping about 30 percent of the jobs the industry lost in the downturn."

Manufacturers, USA Today said, are "increasingly looking to high schools and community colleges to fill current staffing needs and gear up for a wave of Baby Boomer retirements. Educators are trying to dispel student's misconceptions about the industry and spark their interest before they choose other jobs or head to four-year colleges, a costly career investment that has yielded disappointing results for some graduates."

Manufacturing, said Gardner Carrick, vice president of Manufacturing Institute, "is dogged by an outdated image that it's 'very physical, labor-intensive, you're working with your hands, you're getting dirty and there's no career path. Actually, you're working with computers and robots that are doing what you used to do by hand. That requires a skill set [in math and science] above what was required a generation ago."

"The high school programs borrow from Germany's education model, which forces students to choose a career track and take part in internships as early as age 15," the article said. "Many are channeled into skilled labor jobs, which are more highly respected than they are in the U.S. After building plants in the U.S. in recent years, several German companies are teaming with U.S. community colleges to replicate that apprenticeship system in this country."

Read the full story and comment below. 

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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