Key takeaways: manufacturing companies and an educated workforce

Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is extremely important in building a skilled talent pool for the manufacturing sector. We spoke with three representatives in our July webinar, Manufacturing Companies and an Educated Workforce, about their efforts to build effective STEM education programs.

Scott Hudson, principal manager, social responsibility and community outreach at the Alcoa Foundation, Jennifer Mandel, communications and public affairs manager at Lockheed Martin, , and Michele Walker-Moak, program manager, global community affairs atApplied Materials believe that encouraging interest in STEM fields is crucial for the future of manufacturing companies. They noted that a shortage of STEM-trained talent currently exists, and thus they focus their programs on engaging untapped demographic groups to help fill this void.

Three key themes emerged from our discussion of STEM education initiatives, and our participants shared their experiences with each:

Aligning Programs with Strategic Issues

One of the main themes that arose from our exchange is the significance of aligning educational programs with a company’s overall strategy. Taking this step increases the program’s effectiveness for it allows executives, employees, and other stakeholders to more easily see the value of the investment.

Hudson stated that one of Alcoa Foundation’s key strategic priorities is education, particularly for the purpose of developing a skilled workforce. One of its resulting programs is the two year, $1.25 million “Global Internship for Unemployed Youth in partnership with the Institute for International Education. The program aims to increase the employability of youth in the manufacturing sector.

Applied Materials’ core corporate value of “being close to the customer” means they tailor their products and services to meet particular customer needs. This corporate value is reflected in their Educational Initiative as it caters not only to different communities, like San Jose and Austin, but to different types of schools, like public and charter, in underserved targeted districts.

The Importance of Partnerships

Many companies enlist the expertise and service of knowledgeable non-profit partners for their educational ventures. As a consequence, choosing the right partners and maintaining positive relationships are essential to the success of a program.

Walker-Moak stated that partnerships are vital to having a program that not only does well, but lasts. She noted that it is very important to set expectations from the start, continually listen to your partners, and be flexible and open to suggestions for change.

Mandel highlighted many partners that contribute to Lockheed Martin’s STEM projects, from National Geographic, which helps create exciting hands-on activities for their joint venture “Engineers in the Classroom”, to Project Lead the Way which develops educational programs in K-12 schools designed to encourage interest in STEM subjects.

Additionally, Hudson related that Alcoa’s partnership with Discovery Education allowed them to build and distribute a collection of educational materials that teaches students the basics of manufacturing. “Manufacture Your Future is available online and has been dispersed to 3.5 million educators.

Levels of Approach: Local, National, and Global

Deciding at what level you would like to establish your educational program is important as it dictates your approach in a variety of ways. Walker-Moak advised listeners to focus on what outcomes you want to achieve in order to determine the appropriate geographic scope. If the goals are broader, then a national or even global approach might be best. However, if you would like to hone in on a specific problem, then looking to serve the community at the local level might be the better choice. Some companies also may seek to have the best of both worlds through a widely dispersed, but locally-based approach.

The Alcoa Foundation’s “Global Internship for Unemployed Youth is a good example of mixing a local and global approach. While the program operates in a number of countries, it seeks to tackle local issues of workforce development by placing youths with small and medium companies in their own communities.

Applied Materials revamped their educational program in 2001 in order to specifically have a more targeted and measurable impact. Conducting a study of schools within Silicon Valley where their headquarters is located, they found focusing on high poverty areas within the city of San Jose would yield the best results. Their decision to focus solely on the local community hinged on the notion that they wanted to maintain a deep, long-term commitment, which they believed only a narrower approach could truly allow.

What experiences have you had in developing educational initiatives, especially those related to STEM, in your company? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.