Manufacturing Day Goes Virtual: More than 1,500 local students and 20 schools participate annually
Among all that has changed in a COVID-19 world, there’s one thing that hasn’t: A desire to excite local middle and high school students about careers in manufacturing.
To that end, Manufacturing Day – an annual event connecting students with Grand Traverse manufacturers – is on this year, but as a virtual event.
Instead of school buses transporting hundreds of students to dozens of manufacturers, prefilmed company videos and commentary are in the works to bring manufacturers to students.
“When we considered the fact that visiting a school or the students visiting a manufacturer was off the table, we had to really dig deep and figure out how we could still bring value to the students and the manufacturers,” said Lisa Baker-Lorincz, chair of the workforce development committee for the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council, which leads the event.
Baker-Lorincz is also business consultant at AccessPoint in Traverse City, which provides employers with human-resources services and technology and recruiting assistance.
She and others spoke with TCBN as plans and details were still being developed for an event that’s had to take into account coronavirus concerns and restrictions as well as uncertainty over fall school environments.
As of mid-August, plans called for manufacturers in the region to film videos that capture elements of their operations and job opportunities. Voiceovers will accompany the videos, explaining what students are seeing as if they were present on a tour. In many instances, the students will see “pretty much what they would have seen in person,” Baker-Lorincz said. “It’s just going to be through a different lens.”
The videos are among changes this year to a day in which manufacturers in the Grand Traverse area and around the country traditionally open their doors to students. The event locally started in 2014 with eight manufacturers hosting 300 students. Last year it touched almost 1,500 students from 20 schools, visiting 37 manufacturers.
It’s an important day, said Don Howe, chief strategy officer at Century Inc. and vice chair of the manufacturing council’s board. For one thing, he said, it’s an opportunity to show students a career path that they can take out of high school, as he did, and advance through manufacturing positions while gaining further education, helped by employer tuition reimbursement programs.
The event can show students what manufacturing is … and isn’t.
“It’s not dark and dirty and dingy; there’s cutting-edge technology,” Howe said. “And there’s so many opportunities in manufacturing aside from being a factory worker,” in areas including accounting, information technology, human resources, quality assurance, purchasing, engineering, administration and supervisory roles.
He says he also sees an element of personal satisfaction in manufacturing work.
“You’re taking raw material and turning it into a finished good. You can see the tangible benefits of what you’ve done,” he said. “There’s a sense of pride … seeing something to completion really gives you a sense of ownership.”
Traverse City-based Century is a precision machining and heat-treating provider serving companies that support industries like energy, defense, transportation equipment, electronics, aerospace and medical equipment.
Rob Summers, executive chairman of the manufacturing council and senior business advisor in the regional office of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, said that while Manufacturing Day is transitioning to a different format this year, goals remain the same: To educate and to inspire students to pursue manufacturing careers, while building connections to career paths with local companies.
In some ways, the day’s message and outreach could be even broader than in the past. Planners are working to highlight the three segments that make up the majority of the region’s manufacturing employers – metalworking and machining, assembled products, and food production – the latter segment in the past generally inaccessible to student tours but now possible with videos.
“This is going to be a good opportunity for us to be able to highlight each of those three main drivers and paint the picture for careers in those three,” Summers said.
Past student exposure was also limited by time constraints in getting each group of students to two or three manufacturers during the day. But with videos, organizers hope that students can see more manufacturers. And potentially more students can participate, like those home-schooled or learning online, Baker-Lorincz said.
“One thing that has come out of this: with all of the restrictions, there’s also some opportunity,” she said.
Council members are also talking with manufacturing groups outside of the council’s region of Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska, Antrim and Benzie counties to see if outlying businesses might become involved.
Summers said that while in-person tours in past years generally lasted about a half hour, the videos will be shorter – around 15 minutes. The idea is to have videos with voiceovers that can deliver a message to students “wherever they are,” whether in school classrooms, learning at home, or elsewhere, he said.
Although students won’t have the hands-on experiences of past years, Summers said he thinks they will still be excited about processes and content they will see in the videos.
Planners have needed to be flexible and consider a variety of scenarios, given the fluidity of the COVID-19 situation. For example, while Manufacturing Day is traditionally observed the first Friday in October (which this year is Oct. 2) the videos could be shown at other times, as school schedules or teachers’ curriculums allow, Baker-Lorincz said.
The MiSTEM Network, a statewide initiative to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and experiences, Newton’s Road Northwest and Networks Northwest work with the council to help organize Manufacturing Day, with council member sponsors helping to underwrite the event.
Newton’s Road executive director Barb Termaat said that while this year’s experience will be different, it could bode well for future events. Newton’s Road, a nonprofit that supports and promotes STEM learning and career opportunities, is a longtime supporter of Manufacturing Day.
“I believe there will be improvements that will come out of rethinking the student and manufacturer experience of this event,” Termaat said. “Manufacturing Day will never be the same again – it will only get better.”
She and others have been shaping plans to communicate and engage parents and schools, including providing teachers with a letter to send to parents. The letter will talk about Manufacturing Day and related careers, career pathways like job fairs and job shadowing, and community connections and programs to pursue. In other words, “ways to explore beyond what will be shared” with students in a few hours, Termaat said.
“Kids need to have a more connected experience with these careers,” she said.
Communication is important leading into the event as well as afterwards, Termaat said, “so we’re building up curiosity and interest, and then keeping that connection once we have their attention.”
Century’s Howe said he hopes the videos send a message that manufacturing “is a destination. It really is a career-oriented proposition that can provide well for you and your family over your lifetime.
“That’s what I would want the kids to take away.”
Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.
Above photo courtesy of TentCraft (https://www.tentcraft.com/)