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Earlier this month, county government, schools, colleges, and workforce development agencies, along with businesses in Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties, celebrated National Manufacturing Day. This one-day tour of manufacturing facilities is an effort to expose middle- and high-school students to careers in manufacturing.

This year, I rode along with students from Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northeast (OSTC) in Pontiac, one of four campuses operated by Oakland Schools. Each provides a number of career technical education programs in high-demand fields such as mechatronics, automotive technology, machining, welding, health sciences, and information technology.

The day was coordinated by Oakland CountyOakland County Michigan Works!, Oakland Schools, and Oakland Community College. Representatives from these organizations welcomed students. In addition, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence and Roger Curtis, Director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development, spoke to the students about the opportunities in manufacturing and the importance of trying things out. Curtis advised students to “follow your passion….It’s okay to not know what you want to do and try and figure it out.”

We visited the Rochester Hills facility of Lear Corporation, which has a presence in 38 countries with 160,000 employees. We toured the plant and watched car seats for GM vehicles being made. As a just-in-time business, efficiency is highly important.

Manufacturing industry jobs include skilled-trade positions such as assemblers, hi-low drivers, and builders; additionally, there are professional positions in engineering, finance, human resources, and many other fields. Students heard about Lear’s hiring processes, culture, compensation, and benefits and what the company looks for in its workers.

For hourly employees, Lear targets people who work hard, are focused and ambitious. For salaried employees, Lear wants people with relevant education and interest who are engaged and care about safety and innovation. About a third of the workers in the plant have more than 30 years of experience. Although some jobs require just a high-school diploma for entry-level jobs paying competitive wages, the students were told that “the more education completed, the better, especially in technology.” The company will need people who understand and can operate robots and other high-tech machines.

After the tours, students heard from Kelly Services (staffing agency) on different types of jobs in manufacturing, preparing for their careers, and managing their use of social media wisely. It was interesting to hear that 92 percent of recruiters use social media when hiring.

So, what did the students think?

I had the opportunity to talk to many students. All were polite, open, and honest. Summaries of just a few of the conversations are shown below.

Three themes that came up in several conversations were:

  • First, many students were encouraged to consider the Oakland Schools Technical Campus by their high-school counselors because they expressed an interest in more “hands-on learning.” This is a positive change from perceptions of Career Technical Education (CTE) among some counselors in the past.
  • Secondly, the students really like math. Whether this is because the focus is applied math or because they just happen to be good at it, understanding math is critical for success in most technical fields.
  • Lastly, they are practical. Some students told me their favorite class is literature or history, but they were pursuing engineering because of the availability of jobs. They also appreciate that it is good to have more than one interest.

Allen from Lake Orion, is in the welding program at the Northeast Campus. He plans to study engineering at the Maritime Academy to pursue a career in the Merchant Marines. He finds that “welding is fun and gives [him] purpose.” Although he likes history, he recognizes that there are not a lot of jobs in that field. He heard about the career technical programs at OSTC from his mother’s friend and is glad that he made the decision to pursue the program. He feels it is important to have a degree and his parents have always encouraged him to go to college.

Mariano is an 11th grader from the International Technical Academy in Pontiac. He chose the mechatronics program at OSTC because he likes to see his drawings come to life. He heard a presentation about the program while in 10thgrade and felt that it was right for him. Most of his family is in the medical field, but he plans to go to college to study engineering because he likes building things. He also likes literature.

Brayan is a 12th grader from Pontiac Schools in the Mechatronics program. He chose this because it provides exposure to different elements of engineering to help him decide his career focus. He would like to pursue an engineering degree probably at Oakland University after completing the first two years at Oakland Community College because it is “cheaper at first.” He chose OSTC because he knows other kids who attended and did well. His parents were also supportive because it provided him with “hands-on” experiences.

Breia is one of just a handfull of girls attending Manufacturing Day tours from the northeast campus. She is part of the machining program. and is an 11thgrader from Oxford. She is passionate about both music (she plays the flute) and engineering. She likes “building stuff,” but may change to mechatronics in 12th grade because there is more technology. She found out about OSTC from her high-school counselor and decided she would get more hands-on experience here than in her home school. Her favorite class is math and she really likes algebra.

Giovani is an 11th grader from Avondale Schools in the collision program. He heard about the program from his counselor. He is a “hands-on” person and is enjoying the class. He plans to pursue mechanical engineering at Oakland University after completing his associate’s degree at Oakland Community College. His dream is to open a collision shop because he has family and friends in the industry.

Mario is an 11th grader from Rochester. He is in the machining program because “it is more interesting and leads to engineering.” He thought the tour to Lear was useful because he learned some new things – particularly that while machines do a lot of the work, they need to be programmed and the workers were busy and not bored. He would like to study engineering at Oakland University because it is closer to home and he has heard they have a good program. He likes OSTC because it is “more hands-on and interactive than regular school and you can learn and create things.”

It is clear that the students I talked to really liked being at the Northeast Campus and were glad they had made the decision to pursue CTE programs.

Manufacturing Day is important for many reasons:

  • For business, Manufacturing Day is a way of connecting with the future workforce and overcoming misconceptions about manufacturing careers.
  • For students, it provides an opportunity to see what a 21st Century manufacturing facility looks like and talk to professionals in their fields of interest.
  • For educators, it helps students connect their academic learning to real-life application.
  • For economic developers, it helps to close the future skills gap by exposing students to high-demand fields.
  • And finally for Southeast Michigan, it reflects true collaboration of business, labor, government, education, and workforce development, which ultimately leads to a strong and more prosperous region.
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