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Student Run Manufacturing Shops: Helping Bridge the Skills Gap

All around the nation manufacturing shops are being discovered with one similar and unique aspect. These successful shops are run entirely by students. These distinctive shops have students run daily operations such as running production, overseeing supply chain management, customer service, and many other tasks. Equipping students with the skills in manufacturing is a huge challenge that the industry faces. As baby boomers continue to retire, it is essential to capture fresh new talent from high schools and colleges. One way to effectively do this is through student run manufacturing shops.

Student run manufacturing shops operate in an extremely efficient manner. Before students enter the shop workforce, they are required to enroll in a technology education program of some sort. Then after completing the program, they are able to make a resume and cover letter for the student run manufacturing business before ultimately interviewing for the “job”. Once officially accepted into the school, they are able to pick their role which spans from welders and machinists, to marketers and customer service reps. Their business is fueled through local business who put in work orders and the shop utilizes timecards to track hours of operation. Students also learn the soft skills of business due to dealing with local business owners and employees. These student run businesses are formulated very similarly to what a real world manufacturing shop would look like which is one the reasons why these shops are so educational and valuable.

These manufacturing shops are key to bridging the skills gap in manufacturing for many reasons. First, it provides the educational foundation that those entering the workforce need to be successful. Exposing students to what manufacturing really entails rather than their preconceived notion is also a huge advantage to these shops. One of the hardest things to convince students is that manufacturing is no longer dark, dangerous, and dirty. Another important aspect of these student shops is providing a real world example of what daily operations would look like in a manufacturing career. This prepares prospective employees and helps students better assimilate into their manufacturing jobs. Finally, students are able to develop their soft skills through student run operations. Working with other machinists, talking to customers on the phone, defusing workplace conflicts are all things these students face when handling their daily operations.

The success of these student run manufacturing shops is undeniable. One of the most established and popular student run shop is located in Wisconsin. Cardinal Manufacturing was established in 2005 with a $3,000 budget. To date, it has continued to grow and expand each year taking on more and more work from local businesses. They have recently purchased one Haas CNC as well as having one donated to their program. This allows students to operate traditional manufacturing machines and acclimate themselves to manufacturing equipment.  As this shop continues to grow and expand, it can be looked at as a model of how to successfully and actively bridge the wide skills gap we face.

In an industry desperately searching for ways to combat their worker shortage challenge, student run manufacturing shops could be an effective way to help mend this gap. By empowering students to handle daily manufacturing operations, we allow them to see what manufacturing is really all about.

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