Imagine 10,000 young people in your county suddenly driven to join the manufacturing workforce. It seems like an impossible dream, but Jason Luke has utilized the financial, material and human resources in Kalamazoo County necessary to attain it. Through his efforts, a small pilot program in three local Kalamazoo County schools has transformed into a career-readiness program that will see 10,000 students participating during the 2015-16 school year.
Luke understands the need to reduce the gap between manufacturing’s reputation and the real benefits the industry provides.
“Almost everyone understands the importance of manufacturing, but many see it as a job for someone else, someone that isn’t their son or daughter,” said Luke, Administrator of the Education for Employment
(EFE) Program for the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency (Kalamazoo RESA). “It’s that thinking that has us where we are — if everyone believes it is someone else’s problem to solve, eventually we reach a crisis point.”
Luke understands the crisis point for Michigan’s manufacturing workforce is very real. Over half the current workforce will reach retirement age within the next ten years and with only 8 percent of current manufacturers under the age of 25, the industry faces a significant hiring challenge.
“Building a dialogue between employers and educators is essential to attracting new talent to manufacturing,” said Luke. “Too often we leave the development of curriculum in the hands of one group, while another group knows the skills future jobs are going to require. We need both sides of the talent development equation to work together.”
This collaborative approach is exactly what is happening in Kalamazoo County. Since Luke began bringing the program Project Lead The Way
(PLTW) and other workforce development initiatives to his community, nearly every business owner, education professional or organization executive in the county has been asked to participate by volunteering in the PLTW classrooms. Luke’s efforts began by reaching out to area business for much-needed financial support, including Accu-Mold Inc., American Axle & Manufacturing, Flowserve Inc., General Motors, Graphic Packaging International Inc., Humphrey Products Company, Schupan & Sons Inc., and Stryker Corp.
Luke also worked to connect with educators to adopt courses focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) into existing curriculum. He is a strong advocate, promoting the importance of manufacturing and the industry’s role as a high-paying, technology-driven career possibility. The first Manufacturer’s Appreciation Day was held Feb. 25, 2014, and connected employers directly to students impacted by these career-readiness programs and those who may be enrolling soon.
“Every person is capable of doing something to bring attention to the outstanding careers available manufacturing,” said Luke. “If you are an educator, talk to your students. If you are a parent or student, begin having real conversations about the career paths that are out there. And, if you are a manufacturer, you need to get out and connect with your community. We depend on you for so much because you are the expert on manufacturing. These conversations need to start with you.”