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Cities and towns across the US are hustling to prepare their children for the advanced manufacturing jobs of the future. From cities wooing Amazon for their HQ2 to towns built by manufacturing in the 1940s that are now retooling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one need is crucial – and that’s harnessing the imagination of students eager to create the future.
As part of Manufacturing Day this year, Flex opened the company’s Milpitas-based Product Innovation Center to 50 local high-school students, giving them a chance to see the latest technology and devices created at Flex. The Milpitas economic development team organized the tour. Students visited KLA-Tencor, Cordis and Flex to learn about technology products and local careers.
Located in the San Francisco Bay area, Milpitas, CA is a mid-sized city with a 3,000-student high school, one of the largest in the US. The suburban community established itself as a hub of manufacturing in the 1950s when Ford built a large assembly plant, which was converted to a mall after the slump in the 70s. Today, the city is home to startups, technology powerhouses like Cisco and biotech companies including Johnson & Johnson Vision.
“Milpitas is the place where things get built,” says recently-elected Mayor Rich Tran. “Manufacturing is a great early or mid-career type job, with a living wage and sustainable income. Companies like Flex can have a large impact by creating new jobs in a great industry.”
Milpitas recently recognized Flex with the national public-private consortium NextFlex on the FlexFactor Workforce Development Initiative. This program shows middle and high school students how modern products are made, and what they need to learn to enter the field. This gives students a view of technology beyond smartphones and video games. After all, as Mayor Tran noted, “They only know what they see.” The challenge facing teachers and local employers is helping students learn about available opportunities.
“Here in the Valley we have a huge opportunity to excite our kids with all the bleeding-edge technology available here,” noted Milpitas Unified School District board member Robert Jung, himself a former tech executive. “They can go dream, and think, ‘This is really cool, I want to be a part of this,’ or see a problem that they feel they can solve.”
In the US, the heavy focus on a four-year college education can be a barrier for working-class students. “People who come here from other countries tell me over and over that one of the challenges of the US educational system is the focus on a college degree as the only path to success,” says Bob Nuñez, Milpitas City Councilmember, and former school superintendent. “They say, ‘We can do a three-month coding boot camp, and then go work at a start-up.’” Immigrants from other countries may enter the workforce at the age of 18 or 19, whereas most US students don’t start their careers until four years later. Nuñez sees a need for two-year technical vocational training at the community colleges. This approach can give younger kids a taste of their potential career path. When they find something they like, there’s an option for specialized training in the future.
“I didn’t even know this was here till I came today,” said 11th grader Liberty Walker. “Seeing how things work is amazing, I thought that things were all shipped from other countries, but I didn’t know that things were actually made here.” Walker hopes to be a pediatric nurse and was drawn to the flexible electronics section, with clothing that included lights, sensors and controllable buttons all sewn into shirts and jackets.
Walker saw a shirt that captures data similar to a simplified EKG system, without requiring sensors taped directly to a patient's chest. Students saw a denim jacket with conductive thread that controls a smartphone. Dennis Willie of Flex showed off a wrist wearable device that can track sugar levels for diabetics by measuring the sweat from someone’s arm, without taking a blood sample.
While students enjoyed seeing new technology from VR to robotics to wearables, a core goal for the day was to show students what they need to learn to work for these types of companies in the future.
“A lot of the students have this image of manufacturing being like their grandparents’ manufacturing,” Economic Development Director, Edesa Bitbadal told the San Jose Mercury News. “This day basically opens that up for students to learn about career paths they didn’t know existed in their own backyard.”
The city of Milpitas hopes to make the local Manufacturing Day tour an annual event.
Our Boston Innovation Center conducted an event with Kronos Incorporated this month. You can learn more about the Boston Manufacturing Day event by watching this YouTube video.
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