"I want to come work here!"
That's a quote from a high school student who toured Shelby Township's Cosworth
Powertrain, U.S. during Manufacturing Day
in October 2017, and it was music to general manager Ken Gembel's ears.
Gembel says the girl, just 16, was not yet old enough to work for Cosworth, but he was pleased both by the girl's keen interest in the company's coordinate measuring machine and by the overall participation of students.
"The students were excited and we were excited to see their enthusiasm," Gembel says. "It was the first opportunity for a lot of these kids to see that the new face of manufacturing isn't dirty, dingy, or dumpy. We got to show them our state-of-the-art facility that's almost hospital clean, with the most robust computers with advanced controls and precision tooling."
Last year was the first time Cosworth Powertrain participated in Manufacturing Day, and Gembel says he thinks the event "will help influence the younger generation" to consider manufacturing as a career path.
Manufacturing Day events in southeast Michigan are part of a national "celebration of modern manufacturing meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers." School systems and local governments set up their own programs to celebrate Manufacturing Day, with Macomb County now coming up on its seventh year and Oakland County on its fourth.
The main message of Manufacturing Day in southeast Michigan is that manufacturing is still a vibrant industry in Michigan and that jobs don't have to be dreary or dirty but can involve contributing to areas ranging from robotics to connected and autonomous vehicles.
Manufacturing remains strong in southeast Michigan
While other rust belt states are losing manufacturing jobs, advanced manufacturing is still strong in Michigan, in part because advanced manufacturing is a key support industry to the blossoming mobility sector springing up around connected and autonomous vehicles.
John Paul Rea, director of Planning & Economic Development
in Macomb County, says southeast Michigan is at an "amazing intersection of this great legacy of producing things and technological innovation."
"The world-class cluster of manufacturing assets in southeast Michigan rivals anywhere across the globe," Rea says. "Macomb has 1,600 manufacturing firms employing over 75,000. We have a global tech center, the most advanced aerospace companies the world has ever seen, and the folks working on advanced composites are reshaping the way things are built."
Cosworth, Shelby Twp. Michigan
Jennifer Llewellyn, manager of Workforce Development for Oakland County, says that southeast Michigan needs to take advantage of the infrastructure, skill sets, drive, and knowledge that are already ingrained in the economy and the workforce of the region.
"We're born and raised on the impact of advanced manufacturing in southeast Michigan," she says. "There's real value in that. As advanced manufacturing is shifting to more robotics, more automation, and virtual reality, the scope of advanced manufacturing tech is changing, but… priding ourselves on making great, innovative things is still a part of our core mission."
While more high-tech, high-wage jobs are available in southeast Michigan, the talent pipeline hasn't caught up yet.
Positive trends in Macomb county include increasing wages and the highest educational attainment figures that county has ever seen, but the downside is that county officials believe there are 17,000 unfilled jobs in the county. That situation requires creativity in creating new talent pipelines for high-tech jobs in the county.
"We need to develop creative partnerships and connect the classroom to careers," Rea says. "One of the most rewarding things for me is talking in local school districts and showing students that there are opportunities right in our own backyard. Your career path could take you all over the country or even the world, but some of the world's most advanced technological capability in manufacturing is happening right where you are growing up."
Inspiring students to explore advanced manufacturing careers
Rea says that Macomb's sponsorship of Manufacturing Day is an "organic, community-driven solution to the talent issues we face."
Llewellyn notes that while an unemployment rate of 2.9 percent in Oakland County sounds great, it also means that manufacturing companies need to be "more innovative and more aggressive in creating a pipeline of talent."
Manufacturing Day is one of those creative ways of encouraging more young people to pursue manufacturing careers, and it’s good exposure for participating companies as well.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder attends the grand opening of Cosworth. Photo by Gavin Smith Productions.
"It gives them an opportunity to open the door to young people and gives the company visibility," she says. "It sticks with young people when they get to have a great tour of GKN
or GM or DASI Solutions
. For the company, it's a good chance to connect with young people and increase awareness of the industry as whole."
Manufacturing Day works roughly the same way in Macomb and Oakland counties, with students being paired with nearby companies that match their interests for a half-day tour.
In Oakland, the day has mainly been aimed at students already pursuing training in skilled trades such as welding or machining, but there's a push to offer Manufacturing Day tours to all students, including ones who have never thought of manufacturing as a viable job.
Oakland has also expanded on the Manufacturing Day concept to create an entire Manufacturing Week that includes information sessions and tours for parents, teachers, and administrators as well, according to Jarrad Grandy, executive director of student services for Oakland Schools
, the intermediate school district serving Oakland County.
Grandy says manufacturing has gotten "a bad rap" and Manufacturing Day is a way to improve the industry's image.
"Parents and kids have seen a decade of lost jobs and consider manufacturing dirty, and all these stereotypes," he says. "Manufacturing Day is really about providing awareness and inspiration opportunities for students in Oakland schools about these high wage, high tech jobs in manufacturing."
Grandy notes that Oakland County is "on the cutting edge," leading the world in research and development for the automotive industry.
"When it comes to automation and robotics, we're leaders in the world, and on the K-12 education side, we have the best robotics teams in the world here," he says. "It takes more than one day to move the needle, but Manufacturing Day is an important day that highlights opportunities for kids and gets some energy around it for schools and employers."
Greg Lovell, instructor and software design engineer at KUKA Systems North America, has his own classroom inside KUKA's facilities where he trains engineering graduates to be the engineers of the future. They come in with advanced engineering degrees, and then Lovell trains them in controls engineering and prepares them to hit the ground running in their positions at KUKA.
He brings that love of education to the Manufacturing Day site tours he helps coordinate.
Students stop at several areas of KUKA, including Lovell's engineering classroom. Lovell says he isn't looking at the event as a recruiting opportunity but more as a way KUKA can give back to the community.
"We are exposing the students to our facilities, varied fields of profession, projects, and our effort to educate our new employees," Lovell says. "The efforts we make for the Manufacturing Day tour show the southeast Michigan community that we are motivated to create the best mass production equipment for manufacturing our customers' products, as well as nurturing our young staff to succeed and be the future of manufacturing and engineering. We hope the Manufacturing Day tours encourage southeast Michigan youth to pursue a professional career in manufacturing here at KUKA."
Both Oakland and Macomb are still recruiting companies to be site partners for Manufacturing Day on Oct. 5, 2018. Macomb companies interested in participating can find more details and contact info at the Macomb Business website
. Oakland companies can find more information, including a tour host commitment form at the Advantage Oakland website
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan
Except where indicated, photos by Stephen Koss