By Susan Witt
The landscape of manufacturing has changed dramatically over the past decade. Technological advances that once took decades now take mere months due to the break throughs that are happening at such a rapid pace. The fact that technologies like additive manufacturing have become more prevalent in industry have meant that the workforce has had to adapt and change their skillset. This challenge is only going to become more pervasive as companies move towards implementing more technology into their workforce. With more and more people expected to retire from manufacturing, the next generation of workers will need to be trained with a different skill set than previous generations. To help close the skills gap we partnered with Praxair and Empire State Development to develop an additive manufacturing after-school program located at EWI’s Buffalo office, Buffalo Manufacturing Works.
For the past three years we have been piloting the after-school program at Buffalo Manufacturing Works. Local high school students attend classes once a week in a state-of-the-art Learning Lab. Each student has their own workstation that is equipped with a tabletop 3D printer and laptop with 3D modeling software. We developed a project-based curriculum for these after-school classes, where students learn in an engaging practical environment. Throughout the year students learn the basics of 3D modeling through TinkerCAD, which lays the foundation for the them to learn other industry standard 3D modeling software in the future. They also learn the basics of the seven additive manufacturing technologies. The goal of this program is to prepare students for the SME Fundamentals of Additive Manufacturing Exam. This certificate will help give the students an edge over their peers as they enter the workforce or continue with their education.
All though we have seen many successes over the past three years, we have had some challenges as well. With being an after-school program getting students to enroll has always been a challenge. We have tried several different recruitment strategies over the years but the two strategies that we have seen the most success with are demonstrating the hands-on nature of the program and near-peer recruitment. By bringing in the various projects that the students will be working on over the year and showing the students that the program will be engaging and interactive we have seen an increase in enrollment. But our most effective recruitment tool has been having past graduates of the program speak to perspective students. They speak to their firsthand experiences and the benefits they have seen by participating. These strategies have been so successful that we have been able to increase class sizes from twelve to twenty students over the past three years.
As we continue to grow the program we will continue to look for new ways to make sure that the next generation has the skills needed to be successful for tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs.
Partnering is integral to what we do at The PAST Foundation. We recently co-facilated a series of visioning workshops with NextStreet for Buffalo Manufacturing Works as they strategically plan the expansion of their STEM Learning Lab program. Using design thinking, post-its, and bubbles, they worked to envision their future.
Susan Witt, STEM Lab Manger at Buffalo Manufacturing Works, conducted a tour of Hi Bay where exciting, non-destructive testing occurs providing participants with explanations of all the various processes used.