Deciding to offer time, talent and resources to an organization that stages competitions for kids to learn more about the STEM field is a major undertaking.
At 3M, they take this very seriously. In fact, Maureen Tholen, sustainability director for 3M’s Industrial Business, and Safety and Graphics Business Groups, was named as the chairperson of the SkillsUSA Foundation Inc. The foundation is SkillsUSA’s philanthropic arm, which is comprised of representatives from business, industry, organized labor.
3M's involvement in this area extends to sponsoring the WorldSkillsUSA team at a biennial competition that is organized by WorldSkills, which is a global, member-driven organization with 77 member countries. This year the competition will take place in Kazan, Russia from August 22 to 27.
“Over the past couple of years, we are taking a more intentional strategic look at the skilled workforce shortage, and so becoming involved in this competition is something that makes a lot of sense for us,” says Tholen. “We want to be part of the solution to attracting talent to manufacturing.”
The competition is similar in spirit to the Olympics, Tholen explained. Students represent a specific trade on behalf of their country. “These students and their parents have done a lot of work in order for them to qualify for the competition. It's an honor to be involved.”
3M’s involvement includes offering the company’s subject matter expertise such as application engineers, tech service engineers, and many other disciplines, in order to serve both as mentors as well as judges for the competition. “Those of us who participate in the process of the competition get a lot out of the time we spend with these kids.”
Another interesting angle of the competition that brings value to 3M is the ability to learn about best practices around the world. “We have a seat at the table to learn about different education systems in different countries,” says Tholen.
For example, she says that she has learned about the apprenticeship structure of other countries. Some countries have more of an infrastructure to support these programs, she says. “We come back from these competitions and then work with industry, or the U.S. Department of Education to share our knowledge."
On the education front, 3M is also involved with the National Coalition of Certification Centers, which designs programs for schools and industry. Its curriculum is a complete turnkey system of classroom presentations, materials and labs.
“NC3 focuses on post-secondary education, where a student is trying to get either an associate’s degree of getting licensing in a certain area before entering the workforce,” says Tholen. Students get real-world training on issues, like safety, that they will encounter on the job. “This training benefits the student as they are more employable and it benefits the company who have employees pre-trained in important areas.”
Education and training in a variety of forms are the tactics that 3M is using to support its strategy to produce that all-important pipeline of talent for the future.
Tholen says it all boils down to one basic question. “How do we all help each other get to a better place from an industry standpoint so we have the workers that our industry needs.”