Manufacturing: The Next Generation in Wisconsin

By May 27, 2007General

The constant attention that manufacturers — and the NAM — call to the lack of skilled workers really does seem to be paying off. Every week you’ll see a major newspaper article or local TV on classrooms devoted to developing technical skills, manufacturers working in cooperation with local educators to provide training opportunities, or some other novel approach toward addressing the skills gap. That’s the important thing, that with attention comes action.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports on the progress today with a package headlined, “Renewing allure of nuts & bolts — Manufacturing, while down, is far from out, students learn.

The comes across as too negative, really. Manufacturing employment has fallen since 2000, true, but productivity and absolute volume of manufactured goods are higher than ever before.

In any case, the story highlights local Wisconsin efforts to help young people recognize the potential careers in manufacturing and to gain the skills necessary to succeed there.

At Milwaukee’s Audubon Middle School last week, Charles Harris’ eighth-grade students were hot-gluing Popsicle sticks, shaping cardboard and mounting plastic wheels as part of their assignment to design and build Rube Goldberg contraptions. Two-by-two, the teenagers created 12 separate devices – equipped with levers, inclines, screws, wheels, wedges and pulleys – that had to fit together to form one over-elaborate machine.

The work is part of Project Lead the Way, a national pre-engineering program that teaches schoolchildren applied math and science through hands-on work. The assignment last week teaches not only the mechanics of motion, Harris said, but also communication and teamwork.

One student, Timothy Grant, says he wants to be an engineering technician and work in the auto industry.

“It interests me,” said Timothy, 14. He likes to work on cars and relates it to the Rube Goldberg project. “It’s kind of like this. You need one thing to hook up to the next in order to make it work.”

Audubon Middle School, a charter school with a technical emphasis, looks like an exciting place. The Journal-Sentinel features Harris’ class at work in this video, and the school’s website highlights its online technology showcase here.

Reporter Joel Dresang does a credible job of addressing the many issues involved in the skills shortage and, in the end, gives us good reasons for optimism: There’s attention AND action.