June 29, 2015
Other Voices

Polishing CT’s manufacturing image

Elliot Ginsberg

In a recent HBJ article, "Miscast, CT manufacturers seek fresh image, minds," ingrained misperceptions about the manufacturing industry are cited as a root of the industry's struggle to recruit a new-generation workforce.

Why is this important? Connecticut has a deep and strong legacy in the manufacturing sector. It is a significant force that drives our economy, creates jobs and ensures the state and the nation's position as an economic leader.

According to a recent Manufacturing Institute (MI) study conducted with Deloitte Development, Americans are steadfast in their commitment to creating a strong, globally competitive manufacturing sector in the U.S. However, manufacturing is less popular than other industries as a career choice — ranked last for those 19-33 years of age and only one out of three parents would presently encourage their children to pursue manufacturing careers.

It's a conundrum: How can Americans show support so strongly for manufacturing yet not want their children to work in the industry?

What can we do to change the way people view manufacturing? According to the survey, people with first-hand knowledge of the industry listed manufacturing as one of their top three career choices and were two times more likely to recommend manufacturing careers.

This news is encouraging, and surprisingly not new. MI recognized the crucial need to transform the industry's tarnished image 10 years ago. In 2005, MI created "Dream It. Do It." — a national network to transform the negative perception of manufacturing and attract the creative, skilled young people needed to grow the industry in the global market. Today there are 37 Dream It. Do It. programs running across the U.S.

Now in its fourth year, Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. (CT DIDI), licensed and led by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT), showcases manufacturing career opportunities to middle and high school students, educators, and families through year-long outreach programs across the state. CT DIDI operates with staunch support from the state Department of Economic and Community Development and the advisory board of the recently created Connecticut Manufacturing Investment Fund.

With hands-on activities and events, student and teacher workshops, tours of manufacturing facilities and career fair expos, Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. is making a difference.

One of the unique programs introduced by CT DIDI is the Young Manufacturers Academy (YMA), a two-week program for middle-grade students. Created in partnership with the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS) to spur enrollment in manufacturing programs, YMA provides young people with a chance to experience the manufacturing environment before making their high school and career path choices.

According to Connecticut Technical High School System Superintendent Nivea L. Torres, since the start of YMA in 2009, enrollment in the precision manufacturing program at technical high schools has increased dramatically for programs that had been previously trending downward.

"In April 2009, the CTHSS precision manufacturing program enrollment was at 62 percent capacity with 586 students. Today, there are 774 students at 13 sites placing overall enrollment at nearly 80 percent capacity. This increase is a direct result of the successful YMA summer program," stated Torres.

Based on the success of the academy, the Motorola Solutions Foundation awarded The Manufacturing Institute, in partnership with CCAT, a grant to fund the expansion of YMA and to create an implementation tool kit for Dream It. Do It. nationally.

As a result, the YMA model is now recognized as a Dream It. Do It. best practice, endorsed by MI and the National Association of Manufacturers. It is being implemented widely.

According to Susan Palisano, director of education and workforce development at CCAT, YMA graduates believe that jobs in manufacturing are safe, clean, high-wage, high-skill and fulfilling. Many YMA alumni are now considering careers in the field.

Beyond the outstanding work being done by state and private colleges around Connecticut and the state technical high schools, other manufacturing and business organizations as well as nonprofits like the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund reach out to young people throughout the year. Career fairs, school events, facility tours and interactive workshops tap students' creativity and give them a fresh look at today's high-tech, fast-paced industry. The result is an eye-opening, positive experience with the manufacturing world.

Since its launch, CT DIDI has hosted and participated in more than 100 events reaching more than 19,000 students, more than 2,100 educators, and nearly 700 family members in towns stretching across the state from Torrington to Bridgeport to Hartford to Old Lyme.

To showcase the industry, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proclaimed October as Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. Manufacturing Month in 2012. The annual promotion kicks off on national Manufacturing Day with CT DIDI's signature event for middle-grade students, Manufacturing Mania. This unique, regional event brings hundreds of students and teachers together for team-based activities that simulate manufacturing talk with industry leaders.

Although there has been progress in changing misconceptions about manufacturing, remnants of a tarnished factory image remain. It is only through constant, collaborative efforts across the state, and the nation, that manufacturing will shine once again as a source of pride, inspiration and technological innovation, attracting the best and brightest minds of the next generation.

Elliot Ginsberg is the president and CEO of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc.

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