Teens and Manufacturing: Bridging the Generation Gap

Many manufacturing company managers are asking the same question: Where will future manufacturing employees come from? The manufacturing workforce seems to be getting older and older, and more and more manufacturing employees seem to be retiring every day. The emphasis today is on digital technology and computer programming for young people, not manufacturing.

So how can we bring new manufacturing workers into the fold? How can we get teens interested in manufacturing?

Manufacturing Camp

One manufacturing company in Virginia Beach has a possible solution. For the last five years, STIHL, Inc. has hosted the STIHL Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp. The camp is a four-day manufacturing experience for teens. High school students from Virginia have the opportunity to win one of 35 spots in the camp through an essay contest. The winners get four days of a hands-on technology project to play with.

The camp is the result of a collaboration with Dream It. Do It. Virginia — an organization created by Virginia’s advanced technology sector to be a free career resource tool teaching people about opportunities in areas such as health care, robotics, biotechnology, information technology and manufacturing.

The most recent incarnation of the camp gave students the parts to build “Escape Bots” — robots with infrared sensors designed to avoid obstacles. Five teams of seven campers had to work out design plans, budgets and technical applications to build the robots most efficiently. The winning team earned a $1,000 scholarship per student.

Exposing Teens to Manufacturing

It’s obvious that kids typically learn more when they are interacting and having fun while learning rather than simply reading a textbook or listening to a lecture. At the very least, they are likely to be much more engaged in the subject, which in this case is manufacturing. Not all the students who attended the camp will necessarily go into manufacturing, but through this opportunity they got an exposure to manufacturing that most teens do not get.

This is the key to bringing more teens into manufacturing. Many of today’s teens don’t even think about manufacturing jobs unless their families are already in manufacturing. Opportunities like this manufacturing camp not only bring manufacturing into the picture for young people, but also help them figure out whether or not this is something they might want to pursue.

Getting Teens Interested in Manufacturing in Your Area

If your area does not have a program like the STIHL camp, you might consider finding out if there is interest in starting one or even starting one yourself. You might also want to consider hosting other events for kids from time to time: opportunities for students to take a field trip and, from a safe distance, learn more about the process of manufacturing and the many opportunities in the manufacturing world.

It’s no longer enough to rely on the assumption that new and skilled manufacturing workers will appear from somewhere. To sustain manufacturing, industrial entities must actively cultivate interest in manufacturing among teens.

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