The Global View: A Factory Tour Is Not Enough to Get Students Excited About Manufacturing

When I speak with manufacturing leaders, I sometimes ask them whether they want their own children to pursue a manufacturing career. This often leads to a discussion of how to help students become interested in a career related to manufacturing. The conclusion, more often than not, is that a plant tour is not enough to inspire young, motivated, high-achieving youth to consider a career in manufacturing. The reason is that a predisposition to manufacturing usually comes from the childhood experience of “making stuff.” And, unfortunately, “making stuff” has slowly disappeared from school curricula over the past few decades. There are even kindergarten classes and preschools where “making stuff” has been removed from the day-to-day activities of students. Giving students the experience of making stuff is critical if schools are to nurture students who will develop into future manufacturing employees. It starts in preschool and kindergarten, when kids realize that flour and water and eggs can make pancakes and cupcakes. It evolves to taking a block of clay and creating something from their imagination. In junior high school, students are introduced to chemistry and physics and, through labs and experiments, they see the physical results of the theories they are learning. In high school, they learn that languages are not only good for communicating with other people and cultures, but that they are also useful for communicating with machines. But,...

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