Teaming Up To Change Attitudes

A multifaceted program changes how students, educators, and parents view manufacturing careers.

In a little over two years, manufacturers in the metals industry and local educators in Danville, Ill., have "created more awareness among students of career opportunities in manufacturing and created a greater pool of applicants to draw from," says Vicki L. Stewart, president and CEO of the Danville Area Economic Development Corp. (DAEDC), which coordinated the effort. The multipronged initiative includes a yearlong advertising campaign on cable TV; monthly radio profiles of area businesses; weekly profiles of manufacturing workers and their jobs in the classified ad section of the local newspaper; billboards proclaiming the teamwork, innovation, and creativity needed in manufacturing; and even place mats in area restaurants that give facts about manufacturing. The metals companies also have sponsored career fairs, tours for teachers, and job shadowing for students. To address short-term needs, manufacturers worked with Danville Area Community College to develop a six-week program that focuses on basic skills, as well as fast-track apprenticeships for electronics, machining, and maintenance that students can complete in less than 18 months. There's also a weekend classes-only program at nearby Southern Illinois University where manufacturing employees with an associate's degree in applied technology or five years of work experience can earn a bachelor's degree in manufacturing technology. DAEDC also has helped develop the MERIT Academy (for Manufacturing, Engineering, Robotics, and Industrial Technology) at Danville High School, an initiative that amounts to a college-prep program for manufacturing technology. Core subjects such as English, math, and science are taught in the context of how they'd be used in the business world, and students get opportunities to perform manufacturing work outside school. The MERIT Academy also includes summer internships for students and a mentoring program. Each mentor visits his assigned student the first Wednesday of the month for a "power lunch" and arranges for the student to visit the manufacturing workplace once a month. The final link: programs for students in elementary grades. Mrs. Mary and the Great Math and Science Adventure -- designed to make those subjects fun for third graders -- is now in its second year and was the impetus for a program called "May the Force Be With You" that focuses on giving fourth graders data on metrics and insights into three forms of motion. Students in grade six learn about engineering through physics in a program developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers. "It is a true partnership between education and business," says Stewart. "Because of these initiatives, there is now more interest in the manufacturing field."

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