Roger Jankowski| Crain’s Custom Media

Scott Palmer has been issuing a wake-up call to Macomb County education officials, with a goal of helping them see what modern manufacturing looks like.

To break the misconception of manufacturing as “dirty, dark and dangerous,” he has been leading group tours of local manufacturing operations as part of an education mission.

Palmer, regional administrator for all career technical education programs in Macomb County’s 21 school districts, wants school superintendents and other personnel to see today’s world of advanced manufacturing, and the challenging, high-paying jobs that are part of the new equation.

On a tour in February, he lined up two companies, both of which were eager to participate in his educational programs. SKF-USA Inc., a global technology firm based in Sweden with facilities in Armada, and PTI Engineered Plastics Inc. in Macomb Township, a complex plastic injection molding company, offered to host tours.

Scott Kraemer, senior mold designer of PTI, said the lack of high school interest has impacted the talent situation.

“There’s nothing at the high school level that prepares kids for these careers,” he said. “Twenty to 30 years ago, they could get journeyman cards. But since 2005, that’s all been done away with. With schools pushing four-year, not two-year, degrees, a lot of kids are falling through the cracks.”

The kinds of kids Kraemer is referring to are those who work better with their hands and don’t fit certain roles. “Machining,” he points out, “can teach math. But it’s taught in a different way, not just by theory or books.”

The tour itself changed old perceptions. The pristine cleanliness of the facilities, the engagement of the employees, the high-tech machinery and systems all demonstrated clearly that these are not your grandfather’s — or even your father’s — manufacturing jobs.

As the group gathered at Romeo Engineering and Technology Center — a satellite of Romeo High School that emphasizes technology and advanced science and math — they were joined by C-level executives from over a dozen other companies in the county who gladly would have held tours, too, had time permitted.

They came to Romeo to state their case, that the lack of interest by young people in the manufacturing field is related directly to students receiving no clear career path in high school. And that, in turn, is resulting in an alarming shortage of qualified manufacturing career candidates.

“When we all sat down,” said Kraemer, “you could see we all were not on the same page. There was a disconnect between what we need as employers, what schools need and what legislators think we need.”

What the schools need mainly is flexibility. Educators said they could understand the need for a different curriculum, but too often, their hands were tied.

Since that round table discussion, some very encouraging — even exciting — changes have come about, changes that are untying school officials’ hands and addressing the needs of the manufacturing community.

Thanks, in part, to the efforts of Palmer and workforce organizations and leaders around the region — as well as the ability of legislators to see the disconnect themselves — two new bills were passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder on June 25th. House Bills 4465 and 4466 amend the mandate that high school students study second-year algebra in a traditional class setting. Instead, the new law allows a career technical education student to learn equivalent math skills through courses based on practical applications.

Educators now also have the flexibility to allow other CTE courses to fill a science credit. And high school students can swap one foreign language credit for a CTE program.

In addition, students and counselors will now have more flexibility in creating personal curricula to recognize completion of a CTE program in nearly every required subject area.

Will the changes lead to more interest in manufacturing among students?

Palmer is hopeful.

Roger Jankowski is the President and Chief Creative Officer of JankowskiCo, a highly regarded, marketing and advertising agency which, for 17 successful years, has operated on the premise that big problems are best solved by big ideas from a small group of big thinkers.  In addition to his marketing communications work, Jankowski is also a well known and prolific business writer who regularly contributes astute content and news stories on a variety of subjects – from art to education, energy to employment, science, technology and healthcare matters.
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