Innovations in workforce development: Partnering schools with industries

On July 7th, Governance Studies at Brookings hosted a half-day conference on the global context of modern manufacturing. The event included a segment on innovations in workforce development with Ashley A. Smith, a reporter from Inside Higher Ed who moderated the segment panel; Mary Ann Pacelli, Workforce Development Manager with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership; Walter Siegenthaler, Executive VP of the Max Daetwyler Corporation; and Leah Gilliam, Strategy, Innovation, and Education VP of Girls Who Code. The panelists addressed alternative education models, skill gaps in the manufacturing workforce, and the role that corporate partnerships can play in education.

Educational initiatives for the technical workforce

The panel on ‘Innovations in Workforce Development’ opened with a discussion of the education-oriented initiatives taken by the panelists’ respective organizations, with a focus on cross-sector collaborative partnerships and alternative education models. Mr. Siegenthaler outlined Max Daetwyler’s program ‘Apprenticeship 2000’, formed in collaboration with several other North Carolina companies and the Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. He further detailed the pipeline created by Apprenticeship 2000, which starts apprentices as seniors in high school and supports them through a simultaneous community college and shop apprenticeship program until they graduate with an associate’s degree and journeyman certificate.

Along a similar vein, Ms. Gilliam spoke of the Summer Immersion Program offered by Girls Who Code, a seven-week intensive computer science course for classrooms of 20 young women, embedded in technology companies. She also referenced the pipeline issue, stating that “by having these classrooms embedded in technology companies, we work with the corporate partners to really help them see and develop the young talent that’s so important to really widen and change the pipeline issue that we have in terms of technology fields.”

Increasing student awareness of technical fields

All panelists spoke of the need to increase student awareness of their industries. Ms. Pacelli declared that the largest workforce development struggle is one of re-advertising and re-publicizing manufacturing as a career opportunity.  Mr. Siegenthaler concurred, stating that there are “still a lot of misconceptions about manufacturing, the three D’s: dirty, dangerous, and dark,” and “awareness in high schools is not there [about] what manufacturing has to offer,” Ms. Gilliam shared a similar sentiment regarding the computer science industry, describing popular perception of computer science and technology as missing the collaborative nature and many different skills involved in computational work; she described the problem as one of figuring out “the ways that you market your companies so that people actually get a real sense of what the work looks like.”

The panelists additionally spoke to a deficiency in student awareness of applicability of schoolwork. Ms. Pacelli gives an anecdote: “I learned [trigonometry] because somebody said you have to pass this course and get a good score on your SAT. Then I go out into the real world…well, wow, look there, there’s cosines and everything on the prints that they’re trying to teach me to read.” She argues that facilitating experiences that illustrate how students’ coursework is applicable in a real world context can build an excitement and access to knowledge about fields like manufacturing while simultaneously providing motivation to study coursework. Ms. Gilliam promoted experiences outside of the classroom for this same purpose, stating “field trips, hackathons, boot camps: all those things are really great ways to bring in new audiences and have them just experiment and understand what these things look like.”

The importance of teachers in making the connection between education and industry

Ms. Pacelli further contends that these experiences of applicability necessarily involve collaboration between industry and education. She described piloting a lesson plan in the Cleveland public schools developed by a teacher and Alcoa Concrete & Masonry engineer, in which the engineer brought an airplane hub cap into the classroom, described what the students were learning, and explained how it applied to the role that he had as an engineer. Since that pilot program, Ms. Pacelli recounts, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership has engaged in “helping teachers develop lesson plans in math, science, and even English and reading, where possible, where they work with a manufacturer and they can develop classes” that teach the basics of a subject and exercises that show students where this is applied.

Mr. Siegenthaler also discussed the importance of developing teacher awareness of industries. He described a program held by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, in which STEM teachers visit a different STEM-field related company each day for two weeks. “Some of the comments [we got] were ‘I had no idea that math is needed in a milling machine.’ Where would they know that from if they don’t have the opportunity?”

Cross-sector collaboration: Education, Industry and Government

The panelists repeatedly emphasized the crucial nature of cross-sector collaboration. During Q&A, an audience member asked how governments and companies were incentivized to engage in the high school and college education component of workforce development. Ms. Pacelli answered with an example of collaboration between the Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Workforce System, and Delaware Manufacturing Association. The example demonstrated the potential for successful collaborations between education and industry, as well as government financial and resource support for the endeavor. Mr. Siegenthaler concurred: “Industries can’t just complain that we don’t have the skilled labor, and just sit there and wait for somebody to provide them. It’s not going to happen.”

Helen Zhang contributed to this report.