Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Program responds to Michigan Talent Shortage 

By Cari Bushinski, Northwest Community Schools Director of Instruction

Northwest Community Schools’ Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering High School STEM Program is a project-based program in its second year of operation. The purpose of this program is to immerse 75 students in grades 9 and 10 in the career pathways of manufacturing and engineering and the skilled trades, and integrate the concepts of manufacturing and engineering into mathematics, English, and science learning. These students learn to use advanced manufacturing machinery to design, innovate and build products from beginning to end. Northwest Community Schools has partnered with Jackson Area Manufacturing Association (JAMA), local manufacturing businesses, Jackson Area Career Center and Jackson College.  

According to the white paper presented by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council titled: Transforming Career Guidance Counseling Bridging School to Career in the Workforce of the Future, over 50% of skilled trade workers in the U.S. are age 45 and older. Over 47 million jobs are expected to be available between now and 2018. The U.S. manufacturing industry has reported 875,000 positions open with many going unfilled. An additional 3.5 million jobs in the industry are expected to be open by 2020. In Michigan, occupations in the skilled trades are expected to grow by 7.4 % through 2020.  

Northwest Community Schools has embarked on a districtwide campaign to increase college and career readiness in all students and to increase the percentage of students that are enrolled in a post-secondary college and/or employed in a career in their pathway. To accomplish this goal, it is imperative that students choose a Career Pathway at the beginning of their freshman year in high school and take the aligned courses that best prepare them for externship programs, Career Technical Education Programs, Advanced Placement Programs, Dual Enrollment opportunities and/or Apprenticeship programs.  Students use the Career Cruising Software program to explore their interests, survey their skills and talents, and develop their Educational Development Plans for the future. This program also helps them to research careers their interest areas.  

Jackson County Superintendents Association has established a Career Readiness Task Force that is made up of representatives from each of the area’s 13 school districts, JAMA, Jackson County College and Career Access Center, Junior Achievement and other local community leaders. This task force has developed a common countywide goal and objective for all of the school district’s school improvement plans with strategies and activities that focus on Career Pathways and Readiness. This plan was developed in alignment to the Governors Talent Investment Board Resolution, the Career Pathway Alliance Recommendations, and the Marshall Plan. Data Reviews have been conducted utilizing the Workforce Intelligence Network and Going Pro Data on Employability outlooks in the state. This data clearly indicates the four areas of need are Informational Technology, Healthcare, Manufacturing and Engineering and Skilled Trades. This has led Northwest Community Schools to design this pipeline in Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering in our local school district.   

As the interest in manufacturing and engineering is sparked by our required hands-on middle school exploratory Advanced Manufacturing course, many of the students choose to continue onto the Manufacturing and Engineering Career Pathway in high school. Our High School STEM program began in the fall of 2016 and is a two-year program with three teachers who team teach. The program has a teacher with a certification in Industrial Technology, an English teacher and a math teacher who teaches this class in a three-hour block. These teachers are trained in integrating the state standards into projects that are relative to manufacturing and engineering. Students will receive 9th and 10th grade Math and English (depending on their level), an elective science course and elective engineering/manufacturing course over the course of 2 years. The students’ schedule consists of a 3-hour daily block allowing for 2 hours of other required courses. The HS STEM program is the next step in the process as our students begin their high school career in Pre-Engineering program, Project Lead The Way and/or the Jackson Area Career Center Manufacturing Program. 

The program is project-based where students are assigned to teams and tasked to create projects using the manufacturing processes that they have learned throughout the program. Collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving are all skills that students develop as they work collaboratively in their teams to make connections to academic learning and real-world situations. This year, teams were required to create an innovative product utilizing the Creative Sequence Model of Observation, Investigation, Incubation, Solution, Decision, and Validation. They brainstormed project ideas, researched costs and designed a driving question. A materials list, cost analysis, prototype and purchase requisition were all required during the project. Each team was required to complete an engineering notebook with specific requirements daily. Students were to use the engineering Systems Model of Input, Process, Output and Feedback. SolidWorks program is the Computer Aided Design program that used and is recommended by our Manufacturing Advisory Board as the most utilized CAD program in Jackson County. 

Many partnerships have been cultivated to make this program a success. The Jackson Area Manufacturer Association- JAMA has provided a guiding foundation for our Manufacturing steering committee. Bill Rayl, the JAMA Executive Director has helped to strategically develop the curricular direction of this program. 

Technique Inc. is a leading manufacturing company in Jackson and has been involved in the creation of the Northwest Community Schools Manufacturing program from the initial phase. Mr. Ronnie Johncox, the CEO, and the owner has met with the NW team on several occasions to strategically plan for the specific curriculum and outcomes to assure alignment with the real world. Mr. Johncox has also financially donated significantly to purchase equipment that students will encounter as they move onto actual manufacturing careers. 

Baker College Advanced Manufacturing Technology program combines the fundamentals of CNC machinery with advanced skills in CNC programming. Students master the CNC technology used to control the equipment, learn to program the software used to manufacture each component, including Mastercam, AutoCAD, and SolidWorks. Baker College is a partner in dual enrollment with Northwest Community Schools.

Joe Sorenson, Vice President of Advanced Turning Manufacturing, is a lead supporter of the Northwest Manufacturers Steering Committee. Mr. Sorenson has provided a sense of urgency for our team to develop this program to help provide the community with a qualified, interested workforce in the area of manufacturing. 

JAC3 Early/Middle College Program and the Jackson Area Career Center are also strong partners as their purpose is to support college and career readiness through experiential and career opportunities for these students as many who attend this NWHS Manufacturing Program will go on to attend the Jackson Area Career Center and/or the JAC3 program. 

Northwest Community Schools has developed their Middle School and High School courses and programs by being very attentive to the career outlook and job projections in Michigan. Preparing students with skills that enter post-secondary opportunities such as certification programs, college, apprenticeship programs, on the job training, or military to succeed in today’s professional careers is our collective goal. The Northwest Community School Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering STEM program is an example of how this can be accomplished.