While some companies prefer to invest in workforce development programs for existing talent, others, such as Shape Corp., a Grand Haven, Mich.-based manufacturer of FRP, plastic and metal components for the automotive market, also approach the issue through K-12 engagement.
In the spring of 2017, Shape began working with the SME Education Foundation’s Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME®) initiative, which helps manufacturers conduct analyses to identify their skills gaps and then develop a talent pool that can help them address their needs. Julie Davidson, director of talent acquisition at Shape Corp., says the company was drawn to PRIME because it incorporates a deep understanding of the needs of the industry and of educational systems. “It is not a cookie-cutter curriculum, but rather custom built to meet the needs of the business and ultimately the community,” she says.
SME PRIME developed a pre-apprenticeship program at Grand Haven High School, where students can learn different aspects of manufacturing over a three-year period. Throughout the program, students learn about quality, precision measurement, instrumentation and inspection directly from Shape Corp. employees. Year one, which started in 2017, focused specifically on quality. Year two will focus on industrial robotics, and year three will focus on Shape’s unique Radius-Pultrusion™ process for curved composite automotive parts.
Josh Cramer, the interim executive director at the SME Education Foundation, says that at the end of the program in spring 2019, the students will spend two days with Shape, where they will have the opportunity to receive industry-recognized certification in seven areas of precision, instrumentation and quality. Students will go through the entire process of making a component; Shape’s destructive testing technology will then be used to analyze and evaluate the students’ work.
According to SME’s Education Foundation website, 84 percent of last year’s graduating seniors in PRIME programs intended to pursue careers in manufacturing, and 60 percent of those students intended to pursue post-secondary education in a field directly related to manufacturing. A big reason for that, says Cramer, is that the curricula go beyond just principles of manufacturing; they also help students understand how the company they’re learning from got to where they are today. At Grand Haven, Cramer wants to make sure the students can make the connection between Shape’s history and the impact it has on the quality of the parts they make.
At the university level, IACMI pairs university students with composites manufacturers through its internship program. As Harmon Heath explains, before their internships, the students are trained in basic FRP manufacturing processes. That way, by the time they begin their internship, they already have background knowledge and training on each company’s specific equipment. “It’s really a win-win for everyone,” Harmon Heath says. “The industry partner is getting an intern … that has already received some training and background knowledge, so they’re hitting the ground running. And for the interns, it benefits them because they feel like they can add value.”
That was the case for Alix Ambrose, a mechanical engineering major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who interned with RMX Technologies for 10 weeks in 2017. During the internship, he provided engineering support for the modification and operation of research while developing equipment focused on commercializing a new plasma technology for carbon fiber. He also assisted in the execution and analysis of data gathered from a test matrix to finalize several engineering details that are critical to the design of the new technology.
“Alix brought a unique and valuable perspective to our organization,” said Jonathan Ford, a project manager and design engineer for RMX Technologies in an IACMI press release. “With a little training, he quickly became an integral part of our team working alongside our researchers and scientists to develop and test new technologies.”
Harmon Heath says the internship program has become increasingly diverse. She points to the fact that 38 percent of the 2018 IACMI internship class is female, which is more than double the national average of women in engineering in 2015 (15 percent). She says that by increasing the diversity of internships and candidates to fill these internship positions, IACMI is better able to support a well-rounded workforce and reach students who are likely to enter an immediate workforce market.