High school students talk with representatives of CBIA member company Schick at Manufacture Your Future, an expo designed to generate interest in manufacturing careers.

300 students attend Manufacture Your Future at Platt Tech

By Lesia Winiarskyj

While manufacturing is experiencing what many economists describe as a renaissance, it's also in the midst of an identity crisis.

The Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing (RCNGM), a National Science Foundation Center of Excellence, is working to change that through a series of career expos.

Dr. Karen Wosczyna-Birch, executive director of the RCNGM, says the expos, which include exhibits, employment and education workshops, and networking, show a new generation of workers what manufacturing is: and isn't.

"Students thinking about potential careers, along with adults who influence their decisions: parents, teachers, and school counselors: often have an outdated view of manufacturing," she explains. "They picture a dirty, noisy factory floor with low-skill production-line jobs. In fact, today's environment is made up of incredibly sophisticated technologies developed, programmed, and operated by highly trained employees."

She adds, "Connecticut manufacturers are innovating and competing on a global scale, and they need a talented, capable workforce to ensure their success. It's important for young people to see the possibilities in manufacturing."

The first of this year's expos was held in April at Platt Technical High School in Milford.

Meet the Makers

Coordinated by CBIA's Education Foundation on behalf of the RCNGM, Manufacture Your Future brought together 300 students from 12 area high schools and introduced them to 25 leading Connecticut manufacturers, including The Lee Company, Producto Moore Tool Company, RC Bigelow Tea, Schick Inc., Sikorsky Aircraft, Ultra Electronics, and Unilever.

Throughout the half-day event, students met with educators and company reps, watched products being made by their peers in Platt Tech's high-end manufacturing center, and learned about Housatonic Community College's new advanced manufacturing program in Bridgeport. (HCC was one of three community colleges in 2012 to receive a portion of state funding, totaling $18 million, to develop an advanced manufacturing center to address the need for highly skilled manufacturing workers.)

Manufacture Your Future was also held at Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NWCC) in May, with 250 students and 20 manufacturers in attendance. CBIA's Education Foundation coordinated the event at NWCC as well as workshops on manufacturing for school counselors conducted at Manchester, Naugatuck Valley, and Gateway community colleges.*

Skills USA

Later this month, thanks to contributions from several Connecticut manufacturers, 10 Platt Tech students will take part in a national manufacturing skills competition in Kansas City, Missouri. More than 16,000 young men and women are expected to compete in Skills USA June 24-28.

Earlier this spring, Platt students participated in a regional competition where they walked away with the highest number of trophies and first-place winners. Competitive events focused on both leadership and specific trades. In the CNC (computer numerical control) milling competition, for example, students were given a blueprint and tasked with writing a program for the machine; similarly, a CNC turning competition had students work with a blueprint, trig out angles, ensure that parameters were correct, and decide which programs to use.

"Our school is proud of its performance in the regional event and glad to be represented at Skills USA," says David Tuttle, head of manufacturing technology at Platt Technical High School. "We were happy to host the career expo that brought our students together with other students and local manufacturers. Meeting all the industry leaders was a great experience for our young people, and seeing their peers: students their own age running CNC machines and other equipment we've been talking about: that had a really positive impact."

Lesia Winiarskyj is a writer and editor at CBIA. She can be reached at lesia.winiarskyj@cbia.com.

* The expos and workshops are funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation awarded to the Connecticut Community Colleges' College of Technology to establish the Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing.

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