By Shawn Wright|Crain’s Custom Media

LivoniaFor Gene Keyes, an instructor of manufacturing at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, educating students isn’t just about them passing a class. It’s about giving them skills for a successful career.

It’s an important point these days. Youth employment rates fell precipitously from 2000-2012, according to data by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. The report shows that America’s youth have faced a much more difficult time finding jobs throughout the 21st century than official unemployment rates have indicated.

In the Detroit, Livonia and Warren areas, the report found that of the 24,047 youths ages 16-19, only 24 percent of themwere employed in 2012. This was a far cry from the 46 percent employed in 2000.

For those ages 20-24, the numbers also were worse below what they once were. In 2012, only 62 percent of the total of56,695 youth ages 20-24 were employed. In 2000, that number was at 70 percent.

“They don’t need a bachelor’s degree or Ph.D. to be employed in the manufacturing industry,” Keyes said. “Sometimes, they just need three or four technical classes to get into a field. A lot of the employers now are paying for education.”

The problem is that there aren’t enough kids in the pipeline, he said, which is why he’s been trying to push that shift back into more employable students. In 2009, he had just 54 students in the manufacturing program. Last year, it increased to 343 students. He associates a lot of it to making the program and industry more visible.

“I’m out at every school, giving presentations,” he said. “They just don’t know what’s out there. Everyone sees the results of manufacturing. But you have to remember that if it’s not grown or mined, it’s made.”

For 35 years, Keyes has owned his own CNC shop,; Keyes and Company Inc. He’s been an instructor at Schoolcraft for 14 years and has seen firsthand how industry and academia can fit hand-in-hand. And how they haven’t.

“I don’t think the two meet up very much,” he said. “Everybody thinks they know what path they’re going on. But when they don’t know what paths are available, they have no idea.”

That’s one of the reasons Keyes and Schoolcraft recently held the Technical Career Open House to show local middle school and high school students and their parents what is available and how their education can tie into a job. The open house has been eight years in the making, Keyes said.

Also iIn attendance were six (I count seven – emb) local manufacturers on handto show students what’s out there. Participating The companies that participated were: Livonia-based Alpha USA, NYX Inc. and Roush Industries; Plymouth Township-based Exel North America; Commerce Township-based Three-M Tool and Machine; Novi-based Ecco Tool Co.; and Plymouth Township-based Clip and Clamps Industries.

Also on hand in attendanceto help out were 20-year-old Lee Wagoner and 21-year-old David Valencia, both students of Keyes.

Wagoner graduated with a 3.96 GPA in this May with an associate degree in advanced manufacturing. He met Keyes at a similar open house elsewhere. He said there’s no drive for this work because no one’s letting kids know about it.

Valencia, who will graduate next year with an associate degree in advanced manufacturing, said he will continue his education and attend a four-year university to study product design and developments. But even for those just getting their associate, he said, there is good money on the table and room for career growth.

“You go here, take these courses, and you can get a $12-an-hour job, no problem,” Valencia said. “I was working retail for $10 an hour with no degree. But that plateaus. This, you might start at $12, but it will go up. These machine shops want you full time, which comes with benefits.”

The median wage for skilled trades occupations is $21, according to the State of Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. The median wage range for all Michigan occupations is $16.

During the open house, all of Schoolcraft’s technical labs and machines were up and running, available to anyone who was curious about advanced manufacturing. In all, more than 100 people attended. At least 52 kids participated in a CNC project that was on-site. Keyes said it was hard to plan for the event, not knowing the number of who would show, but was extremely happy with the turnout.

“I got different feedback from the people, some of the parents wanted to go back to school themselves,” he said. “But most parents were appreciative to see that there are other education paths for their kids. Most wish there was more exposure to opportunities like this.”

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