When the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) kicked off its Future Makers and Creators Tour Dec. 12 at the Pleasantville Public Schools, it was the first stop on a journey to schools across all 21 counties.
As the tour winds its way through New Jersey, it aims to introduce seventh through 10th graders to the wealth of career options available in the state’s manufacturing industry—as well as to the variety of tools, technologies and talents that will keep the sector thriving.
“For the tour, the goal is to be able to expose students to new technologies, new opportunities, new thoughts, new ideas and ways to live the life that you choose,” says Larry Banks, Manager of NJMEP’s Pro-Action Education Network & Workforce Development.
By introducing schoolchildren to a career path they might not know about, it shows them at an early age that the world has a place for their talents and interests, as well as offers them a head start on fine-tuning the skills they’d like to develop.
“Watching the students, it’s like a lightbulb goes ‘on’ when they realize there’s a pathway for them,” notes Stephanie Casano, Director – Compliance & Quality Control at NJMEP.
As a relative newcomer to the manufacturing industry, Casano—whose previous career includes 30-plus years in banking—is especially heartened by how many girls have their own “Aha!” moments of realizing that what is often perceived as a male-dominated industry welcomes them with open arms.
“Only about 30% of the population in manufacturing is female, and we work with a lot of women from the C-suite to the shop floor—we’ve developed this sisterhood both within NJMEP and with our clients across the state,” she explains. “It was so exciting and heartwarming to see Larry, [workforce specialist] Tiana [Maynard] and their team working with the Pleasantville girls on welding—those girls went right to the augmented welders. And they were great at it!”
Welding is just one of the many skills that the Future Makers and Creators Tour gives students a hands-on introduction to. That tactile experience is also an easy way to build the kind of self-assured capability that can be parlayed into a career where the average full-time employee earns $97,000 annually.
“Believing in themselves is the most important thing,” Banks affirms. “That confidence builds talent! By sharing years of knowledge with these students and inviting them to be a part of it with this initiative, by giving them this opportunity and working directly with them, we’re creating synergy with experience. Our manufacturing clients are so excited to reach these kids by letting them hear real stories about their work and see their facilities.”
Beyond the benefits to students who are just beginning to entertain ideas of what career they’d like to begin working toward, the Future Makers and Creators Tour, which was made possible thanks to funding by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, helps direct talent toward an industry that always benefits from young, talented up-and-comers joining its ranks.
“Our clients are in every county across the state, and for us to be able to marry the schools and the companies together so that we can give students the opportunity to tour some of our clients’ facilities, they love that,” says Casano. “These kids can actually hear the story of our amazing clients and they can see their facility.”
And with manufacturers themselves getting in on the action, it further helps to spark young imaginations and inspire aspiring creators to envision themselves in roles they would have never gotten to see up close, try for themselves and ask more questions about as they figure out what kind of role the vast world of manufacturing has waiting for them.
“We need sellers, we need people who can tell a story about it, creators, designers, makers, even people on the medical side of it,” Banks explains. “We’re just hoping this sparks interest and some energy in the students while helping our current manufacturers by finding a pipeline of talent that wants to work in the industry when they’re older and grow into it. It’s really important that we’re there in the schools that don’t have any kind of shop classes or hands-on classes because we can be that option.”
It's easy for both schools and manufacturers to get involved in this tour. If a school or manufacturing business wants to learn how they can be a part of the Future Makers and Creators Tour, all they need to do is visit NJMEP.org/MakersAndCreators to connect with NJMEP’s Workforce Development team.
New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program
Bellmawr, Cedar Knolls
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 14, Issue 1 (January 2024).
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