School programs

High School Programs Offer West Michigan Students a Pathway to Manufacturing Careers

Ahen the new class of students arrived at Northview Next this year, they may have noticed new advanced manufacturing training tools.

An alternative school with an enrollment of 35 students that is part of Northview Public Schools, Northview Next is now home to a fabrication lab, with six different machines that provide training in everything from electrical systems and motor controls to systems. tires and mechanical power.

The lab also features a Skills Boss, which is a computer-controlled machine that facilitates training in a variety of advanced crafting disciplines.

All students will spend time in the lab this school year, gaining basic insight into a variety of manufacturing skills, including their first glimpses of Industry 4.0.

“We thought if we could build a lab where kids can learn a trade and get a degree, we think we better prepare them for what they want to do next,” said program director Drew Klopcic. Northview Next.

Northview Next’s manufacturing-focused education is one of the latest additions to regional training programs for high school students, giving them a path to an industry hungry for new talent.

The alternative

Klopcic and current Northview Next staff were instrumental in changing the school’s leadership. Just three years ago, Northview Next operated like most other schools with traditional classroom learning.

Klopcic then introduced a weekly program called Future Focus Fridays, which laid the foundation for a program more focused on equipping students for their future careers. Every Friday, Northview Next students and faculty went on site visits with employers from various industries to get a behind-the-scenes look at each operation.

“We were taking the kids to different places and helping them explore all the options,” Klopcic said. “The only problem is that we didn’t do anything different from Monday to Thursday. We said, ‘What can we do to bring that excitement five days a week?’

Northview Next tapped into a statewide project called Jobs For Michigan Graduates to provide training in different job skills. When students graduate, they get both a diploma and a certificate that they have mastered these skills.

The program veered into manufacturing when Klopcic and his team aspired to create an on-site lab so students wouldn’t have to go elsewhere – like the Kent Quarry Technical Center or Grand Rapids Community College — for practical training.

Knowing that makers have a persistent need for new talent, the school decided a manufacturing-focused program would be a good fit, Klopcic said.

“As we were trying to think of a trade that we could bring directly to the location, manufacturing just made a lot of sense, especially where we are in terms of location,” Klopcic said. “We have a ton of different manufacturers just down the road.”

In fact, partnerships with area manufacturers are a crucial part of the success of Northview Next and similar programs. As part of Northview Next’s employer engagement model, private manufacturing partners provide a range of services, from site visits and training to job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships and other educational opportunities.

Through Jobs For Michigan Graduates, Klopcic connected with Ada’s manufacturing team Amway Corp. in June to discuss the new program at Northview Next. Accordingly, Amway provided Northview Next with access to a dedicated manufacturing expert.

Trainings such as the Northview Next program should be welcomed by most companies in the manufacturing industry, which over the years has faced persistent labor shortages and a lack of talent, which have all been exacerbated recently by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Industry leaders have consistently stressed the need to engage with high school students, show them the viability of the industry, and emphasize that manufacturing has evolved from stereotypical hard work and dirty manual labor.

Cascade Die Casting Group Inc. President Pat Greene recently visited Northview Next to learn more about the program, noting that its manufacturing lab not only has state-of-the-art equipment, but also that the program is laying the foundation for Industry 4.0.

“I liked that they teach kids about hydraulics, electronics and robotics and get them excited about what can be done there,” Greene said. “I think they have the right tools and motivated instructors. For good kids, this is something that can really be a game-changer for them.

Northview Next and similar high school programs provide foundational training to help a young professional get their foot in the door. Greene said most manufacturers can pick up with various formations where programs leave off.

“Manufacturing offers a great career path for kids who have mechanical skills and want to work with their hands,” Greene said. “We will send them back to school. We will make sure they get the education they need. I think it’s a win all round. »

Klopcic said most Northview Next graduates currently head straight into the job market. In the future, he hopes more of them will move on to a secondary education program of at least two years.

Shop class 2.0

Learning basic skills for modern manufacturing doesn’t have to be done in specialist programs like Northview Next or the Kent Career Technical Center. If anything, those basics may begin to bleed into traditional workshop and technology classes in every secondary school, according to local leaders.

“(The shop classes) were great for someone to experience and learn a trade,” Greene said. “It unfortunately hasn’t been as popular in the last couple of years as people focus more on getting kids to college.”

Some area high schools are filling this gap more effectively than others with a modernized curriculum for students who wish to pursue technical training in a traditional high school.

At the lakeside, Whitehall High School offers a CAD course for students and plans to introduce additional programming in mechatronics and an introduction to engineering.

Whitehall is one of a dozen schools in Michigan to participate in the Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education (PRIME) initiative, made available through a partnership with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). The PRIME program helps schools develop a manufacturing-focused curriculum based on the needs of local manufacturers.

Although the school no longer actively receives funding – it can apply for sustainability funding – it has purchased a number of 3D printers under the program in addition to other equipment like a CNC plasma table.

Technology professor Jeremy Sheaffer teaches this programming to students at Whitehall. He came to school after a career in manufacturing that included a role as production manager for the Grand Haven-based company. Form Corp.a Tier 1 supplier of automotive structural components.

Sheaffer remains keenly aware of the talent needs of his former industry.

“Going back to 2008 or 2009, it seemed like the apprenticeship programs were the first thing to cut,” he said. “A few years later things had picked up again and we couldn’t find any electricians or maintenance staff. Was it a shortage? Yes, but we lost that local talent that we sourced.

Sheaffer said he hasn’t personally had any in-depth conversations with fabricators in the area, but that dialogue and those relationships will be important to the ultimate success of the school’s fabricator-centric programming.

“We are always trying to find the best way to integrate local businesses,” he said. “Right now we’re just focusing on the curriculum, what we want to teach and how we want to teach it.”