Dream Teams see success in promoting manufacturing jobs

Cris Collingwood//February 6, 2023

Dream Teams see success in promoting manufacturing jobs

Cris Collingwood//February 6, 2023

The Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) in Allentown launched a PA Dream Team pilot program in Berks County to introduce manufacturing job opportunities in area schools that MRC says is a great success.

Karen Buck

Launched in 2020, with the assistance of the Berks County Workforce Development Board and United Way Berks County, and in partnership with Berks County Intermediate Unit, young workers from local manufacturing companies go into schools to not only talk about what they do but provide an activity that is fun and reinforces what the Dream Team member does, said Karen Buck, director of Workforce Initiatives at MRC.

The goal, she said, is to improve the talent pool of students pursuing technical skills and increase the number of students interested in the STEM careers so that projected workforce demands and opportunities at area manufacturing companies are filled with the right skilled employees.

The original PA Dream Team Program in the Lehigh Valley, supported by Bosch Community Fund and Lutron Electronics, presents to more than 2,500 students annually in two counties and is featured at community events.

“This is an innovative ambassador program where young professionals are trained to go into the classroom and tell their stories,” Buck said. “The hope is that students will connect with them and consider a career in manufacturing.”

She said students seeing young people who work in manufacturing promotes the message that these are “fantastic” careers.

Jillian Darlington, PA Dream Team coordinator for Berks County, said the pilot program started with 13 team members from eight area companies that started visiting schools in the fall of 2021.

“It has been a great success,” she said. “We’ve done 81 classroom presentations and community events and have reached 2,100 students. This year, we are on track to have 35 classroom visits and events.”

Jillian Darlington

The team members come from supporting companies that allow young workers to visit schools during their workday. “This is not a volunteer job,” Buck said. “Companies agree to allow workers to participate, and it’s up to them to decide how to handle covering the workload while they are out.”

The payback is the manufacturers get a pipeline to future employees and they can be involved in the community, Buck said.

She added that a side benefit from the leadership training the employees receive through MCR often leads to promotions, benefiting the employee and employer.

The team members not only talk about what they do on the job, but they provide an age-appropriate activity for the students that teaches them the manufacturing process. Darlington said it also teaches them about all aspects of manufacturing including design, production, marketing and sales.

“One of the most popular activities is a paper airplane,” Darlington said. “All students get a sheet of paper and have five minutes to build an airplane with no cellphones or electronic devices.

“We’re looking for a plane that can hit a target across the room. It gets a lot of laughs, especially among middle school students,” she said.

Darlington explained that after each student gets a chance to throw the airplane at the target, the one that gets closest or hits the target then teaches the other students how they designed their plane.

“The student may not be the one who would normally stand in front of the class, but they take the class step-by-step through the process,” she said.

The students then take turns tossing the airplane again and, most times, see it fly further or hit the target. The lesson, Darlington said, is students learn that customer product designs must be met, and the manufacturer may need to create many designs before one is right. Once perfected, the product is made many times over.

“We work in a small class setting,” Buck said. “That way students can have conversations with team members.”

Darlington, who said interest is growing, said she has had between 40 and 50 requests from schools for this spring.

“Manufacturers are excited about the program because it represents the industry and their company,” Buck said.

The success in Lehigh Valley and Berks County has led to an expansion of the program to areas like Lancaster, Carbon, and Schuylkill counties. Buck said by June 30, eight Dream Teams will cover 24 counties across the state.