A couple weeks ago I was asked to be part of a group of local manufacturing executives attending a conference at a local high school. The purpose was to help ensure that the vocational technology programs at the county schools were adequately preparing students for potential jobs in manufacturing. Vo-tech classes are usually geared toward students who will probably not go on to college, however there were also representatives from the high school’s Endeavor Academy, which is an alternative college-prep math/science curriculum that focuses on hands-on activities. I can empathize with that need to be grounded in the "real world"; had I not taken six months off from my theory-based chemical engineering studies to work at a Nestle chocolate factory I may not have graduated.
One of the primary requirements of our manufacturing community was for the schools to graduate students with some sense of responsibility and accountability… like reliably showing up for work every day. Basic math skills, such as the ability to average three numbers, is also a requirement… we have a pre-employment test that has a few basic questions on it, and I’m continually amazed by how many fail it. And these are graduates from a large and well-funded public high school, with new computers and other classroom equipment that I would love to have in my operations, proving once more that money can’t buy educational success. We’re hoping that California’s new strict graduation test will actually make the diploma mean something.
During some one-on-one time with the various program directors I discussed various manufacturing skills and methods, including Lean. Assuming that a high school grad had the minimum basic skills, if they could also demonstrate even a very fundamental knowledge of lean manufacturing they would be a major asset. Being able to operate equipment and read instructions is one thing, but understanding a culture of continuous improvement and being able to recognize basic waste is a big step above. The teachers were very interested, and I’ll be working with them some more on some ideas and may speak to some of their classes.
If we can teach manufacturing and lean techniques in high school, then why not even earlier?
A week ago Sharon Halsey sent me a note about Camp Success, which is presented by her Silver Crescent Foundation. This camp for 7th and 8th graders is held at a technical college in South Carolina, and is designed to teach leadership, innovation, and engineering skills. Silver Crescent is a non-profit organization that promotes manufacturing in South Carolina and is operated by lean-oriented professionals with actual shop floor experience, and collaborates with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence and the NIST-funded South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Another major partner of Camp Success is the Next Generation Manufacturing Technology Initiative, which includes lean among it’s various technology programs.
Although the Camp isn’t specifically focused on lean, it does help develop some of the creative and innovative technical-oriented thought processes, and provides a glimpse at what could be possible. Concepts like excellence through simplicity, waste identification, and the efficiency of being organized could benefit youngsters no matter what professional path they take. Imagine teenagers with a passion for 5S at home… well, that might be a stretch.
A month ago I wrote about the importance of giving back. One way to do this would be to get involved with your local schools to help ensure they are providing your future employees with the right, or even exemplary, skills.