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2013 July 8 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : Program Seeks To Fill Ky. Manufacturing Workforce Pipeline

HEBRON, Ky. (AP) — Their friends probably think manufacturing means working on an assembly line in a dark, dirty factory. But six students in Kenton County Schools now know differently, and this fall they will spread the word.

The students, who attend one of the district’s six Academies of Innovation & Technology, are part of a pilot program designed to get more high school students to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing.

The students spent a week at MAG, a machine tool manufacturer in Hebron, where they watched workers build machines that will be used to make aircraft parts, and learning about supply chains, quality control and software engineering.

“It’s really eye-opening to see how manufacturing has developed,” said 16-year-old Stephen Goins, a student at Dixie Heights and the Engineering Academy. “It had a tainted image, so it’s interesting to now see it that it’s all technical and advanced.”

When they return to class this fall, Stephen and his fellow ambassadors will meet with other students in hopes of persuading them to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing.

A study last year by the Northern Kentucky Industrial Partnership showed that there were 680 vacant advanced manufacturing jobs in Northern Kentucky; that number is expected to grow to 6,250 jobs over the next 10 years as older skilled workers retire.

“Our whole goal is how do we fill the manufacturing pipeline so we have the trained workers to keep our manufacturing operations going,” said Rick Jordan, chairman of the NKIP steering committee and vice president of LSI Graphic Solutions in Erlanger.

The study also found that high school students were not considering careers in manufacturing, he said. In focus groups, students and parents said they had a negative view of manufacturing.

“People perceive manufacturing the way it was in the ‘50s or `60s,” said Edward Bisig, MAG’s vice president of human resources. “I call it dirty, dark and dangerous. It’s the exact opposite, you go into our shop and it’s bright and it’s full of technology.”

Today, machines do most of the labor in the factories, Jordan said. What companies need are people who know how to build, operate and fix those machines.

NKIP got the idea for the ambassadors from a similar program in southeast Indiana. The group teamed up with Kenton County Schools for the pilot program because two of the district’s new academies directly relate to manufacturing — the Engineering Academy and the High Performance Technology Academy.

The academies, which began last school year with 250 students, are designed for students who know their career path. Students spend part of the day at their home high school and the other half at the academy. In their senior year, students do apprenticeships, job shadows, project-based learning and internships.

The program is expected to grow to 400 students next year, said Terri Cox-Cruey, superintendent of Kenton County Schools.

“I think students and parents recognize the value of business and industry partnership,” she said. “These students are receiving incredible authentic learning opportunities.”

NKIP hopes to expand the ambassadors program to most high schools in Northern Kentucky. This fall Boone County schools will participate, Jordan said.

“We’re not making them so they can run machines,” he said. “We’re making them so they understand the jobs and amount of money to be made, the education needed.”

As part of the program, the six Kenton County students spent a day at Gateway Community and Technical College which offers an advanced manufacturing program.

“They were so enthusiastic and really eager to learn,” said Carissa Schutzman, dean of workforce solutions, Gateway Community and Technical College.

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