April 10, 2017
Other Voices

Manufacturing’s future starts in grade school

Elliot Ginsberg

Today unprecedented growth is projected for the aerospace and defense sector across our nation and our state. In Connecticut, companies like Pratt & Whitney, Electric Boat and Sikorsky have announced long-term contracts for military engines, commercial engines, submarines and helicopters that will spur technology advances and generate thousands of jobs not only within the original equipment manufacturers, but throughout the aerospace and defense supply chain.

This new look of manufacturing — with the world's leading products being produced by a highly educated workforce in clean, modern workplaces — paints a positive picture of what is here now and what is to come.

A major challenge, however, persists — how to attract a next generation of talent needed to support the industry's expansion. It may seem surprising but interest in manufacturing no longer begins in college or even high school, but instead at the grade-school level.

At the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT), we are witnessing this first-hand. There is a strong enthusiasm for learning about manufacturing at the younger grade levels. Thousands of boys and girls have experienced manufacturing through the Connecticut Dream It. Do It. program (CT DIDI), which is led by CCAT and supported by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, corporate, and foundation resources.

During Connecticut Dream It. Do It. manufacturing month every October, more than 500 students participate in two signature events: Manufacturing Mania and the Making It Real: Girls & Manufacturing Summit. Together with our Young Manufacturers Academy sessions held during the summer, we are making manufacturing real for young students and getting them excited about working in this industry.

While we have motivated many students at a young age to seek careers in manufacturing through these hands-on, interactive events and workshops, we know the potential is there to reach significantly more early learners. And that is just what we are doing.

In February, CT DIDI began a pilot program at the Martin Luther King and Simpson Waverly schools in Hartford to bring direct, instructional day programming to fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. We anticipate expanding the program to additional middle schools in Hartford and across the state.

This CT DIDI program offers a series of workshops and a full-day "deep dive" for each grade level that includes hands-on activities and interactive workshops, competitions and simulation-based learning, with a focus on STEM and workplace skills like critical thinking, communication, problem solving and collaboration.

To give students a real-life manufacturing experience, CCAT is working with Pratt & Whitney and Goodwin College. Students will work in small groups on specific project-based activities, guided by CCAT and Goodwin staff. Pratt & Whitney employees who have volunteered to participate in the CT DIDI Ambassadors program will be involved too, giving the young students a chance to get to know people currently working in manufacturing.

Pratt & Whitney is taking the lead in the state as the first manufacturer to support our Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. Ambassador effort. Under the program, employees interact with students starting at the primary school level and become ambassadors to them, demonstrating the rewards of a manufacturing career path. The goal is to inspire the next generation of talent and give employees a chance to make a difference in their communities.

The proof that it works is there. We've watched young manufacturing employees interact with 11, 12 and 13 years olds during our events and workshops. When these young students hear about the limitless opportunities and rewarding careers available to them in the manufacturing world, it's a powerful message and it's being delivered in the right way.

We are confident in this new outreach program because it comes at a time when manufacturing once again is taking center stage in the discussion of our economic future. There are 12 million manufacturing jobs in our country and more than 150,000 in Connecticut right now, with the potential to expand by thousands over the coming decades. And just as the excitement about this growth is escalating, so is the competition to attract and retain the top talent available. This is why partnerships at all levels of education — primary school through college — are as valuable as they are essential.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, American manufacturing ingenuity spurred our country's development and positioned us as an economic world power. That same passion continues to inspire us today.

Our state's and nation's manufacturing success depends not only on advanced technologies but on a talented and skilled workforce that will power innovation and secure our role as a global manufacturing leader for years to come. By starting to encourage young people at the middle school age, we give ourselves a much-needed head start.

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

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