They are dispatching employees to classrooms to help students understand what STEM careers look like. And they are opening their doors for tours, offering mentors and collaborating with other organizations to host events.
The efforts are driven by a labor shortage that shows few signs of abating.
The Lehigh Valley, in fact, could see a deficit of nearly 10,000 workers over the next decade, according to a study by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. The number of baby boomers leaving the workforce over the next 10 years is estimated at 90,665 while the number of incoming workers is 80,673.
The same study found that 71 percent of employers faced challenges in recruiting, hiring or retaining workers over the past year.
Manufacturers and those in construction-related fields – where a labor shortage has been acute – see value not only in recruiting or attracting workers to their companies, but in building a workforce overall.
“All of the manufacturers that I’m involved with are trying to get people involved in it,” said Dick Bus, president of ATAS International, a manufacturer based in Upper Macungie Township.
A RULER TEST
His company regularly tests new employees in basic measurement skills, also known as the ability to read a ruler. In a testament to the need for better training, about one-third of the test-takers fail, he said. These are employees looking for entry-level work, he added.
“It’s basically stuff they should have learned in third grade,” Bus said.
He said his company has been doing outreach activities to boost learning in STEM fields for years.
ATAS, which manufactures metal roofs, panels and other components, was one of the first companies to join the “What’s So Cool about Manufacturing?” video contest, now in its fifth year. With this annual contest, students work with a manufacturer to create a video showing the life on the shop floor, getting a glimpse of what workers do and the skills they need.
In addition, ATAS participates in Manufacturing Day each year and opens its manufacturing floor for tours. And by serving on the boards of the Manufacturers Resource Center and Da Vinci Science Center, Bus has taken on additional opportunities to provide STEM outreach.
GETTING AN UNDERSTANNDING
Victaulic, a Forks Township-based manufacturer, is involved in a number of activities that bring the world of STEM to students across the region.
The primary benefit to Victaulic from hosting activities and investing in STEM outreach is the education of students, said Eric Luftig, vice president and head of marketing at Victaulic. A secondary benefit is letting employees and customers get an understanding of what Victaulic does.
“I can say as an engineering-based company, STEM is vital to what we do,” Luftig said. “There’s a lot of advanced manufacturing that goes on, not just at Victaulic, but at all companies.”
The company’s STEM outreach has definitely increased, he said.
Victaulic has taken part in the Lehigh University Summer Engineering Institute, for example, which allows high school students to hear from engineering leaders, tour the lab and office space, and learn about engineering in manufacturing.
For the Penn State Lehigh Valley Teen Entrepreneurship Summer Challenge, Victaulic employees completed a Lego Lean manufacturing simulation for high school students.
Victaulic also has participated in the manufacturing video contest and contributes to the Pennsylvania Dream Team program, sending employees to local schools to discuss manufacturing and STEM careers.
In July, Victaulic hosted a half-day session at its Forks Township headquarters for high school girls participating in the Let’s Build Camp. For the project, Victaulic highlighted its virtual design and construction capabilities, as well as 3-D/building information modeling technology and pre-fabrication.
Meanwhile, in Berks County, one manufacturer is working on creating a pre-apprenticeship program that would allow students to learn the STEM skills required for working at the company.
“We are still in the early stages,” said Howie Daubenspeck, recruitment, training and development manager for human resources at Quadrant, a global plastics manufacturer based in Reading. But, he added: “From Quadrant’s business standpoint, we are truly trying to develop this model. It’s building your employees before they become your employees.”
Daubenspeck said he is working with Christopher Spohn, principal at Hamburg Area High School, to create the program. Daubenspeck said they plan to put a curriculum in place possibly after winter break. The program is for students who don’t want to go to college or who missed the deadline for applying to career and technical schools, he added.
In addition to the pre-apprenticeship program, Quadrant has participated in Manufacturing Day to open its doors to ninth graders for tours and, for the second year in a row, participated in the “What’s So Cool” contest.
For the pre-apprenticeship program, Quadrant wants to put equipment into a space at its Reading plant that replicates what’s on the manufacturing floor and to use the area for training, Daubenspeck said.
“They are going to develop soft skills but also skills in production,” Daubenspeck said. “When they graduate, they are going to have a higher skill level and qualifications. We’re using this to identify if they meet certain criteria.”