Did you happen to visit the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference this year? (See Feature, p. 20.) If so, you were among the lucky 1,100 or so visitors that got to see New North-area innovation in action. You got to hear from expert speakers on key topics like enhancing your supply chain, building on lean efforts and entering the world of exporting. You also got to see connections being forged between 182 exhibitors and more than 500 area high school students — the future faces of manufacturing.
You also may have had the chance to hear about some of the fantastic collaborative efforts between area schools and manufacturing companies during the NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s Excellence in Manufacturing/K12 Partnerships Awards dinner. (And did you know that the dinner’s silent and live auctions raised $12,150 in student scholarships?) You learned about a dozen or so ways that these partnerships are helping to engage young people in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes — a necessary step toward solving the skills gap.
Dozens of other excellent efforts by area schools and companies were nominated — demonstrating the ongoing commitment to working through this problem. The fact that so many schools and manufacturers are connecting shows there’s a widespread recognition of the need to get our young people interested in science and technology to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.
Well, the jobs of today, really.
That’s what the skills gap is all about. Manufacturers need workers who have the technical know-how to both operate and maintain the high-tech equipment that is quickly replacing outdated machinery. But it’s not just about technical training. They need a new kind of worker to go along with a new kind of manufacturing — collaborative, team-based production environments. They need thinkers, problem-solvers and communicators (see Cover Story, p. 8).
University officials — like those in charge of the new engineering programs through UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh — are working on it. Not in a vacuum, either — educators and manufacturers are talking. Working on it together. The universities work with advisory boards of area manufacturing leaders — keeping up on what manufacturers want and need, as well as anticipating what those wants and needs will be.
Manufacturers are working on the problem internally, too, adding training programs, mentorship efforts and even changing the culture of their organizations to ensure the right people are in the right jobs.
Manufacturers like to say that their plants are no longer the dark, dirty and dangerous places they once were. That’s true. But the change is not only cosmetic — it’s coming with a very necessary cultural shift and way of thinking.
New North, Inc. is on to that idea. This year’s summit, themed “ThinkShift: Adapt and Grow Through Bright Ideas,” will be held Wednesday, Dec. 2 at the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel & Convention Center in Oshkosh. Learn more about the state of the New North economy and what some innovative thinkers are doing to help it along. We’ll see you there!