Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Despite the tremendous job opportunities and high wages available in manufacturing, schools and technical colleges across the U.S. still struggle to fill their training programs, especially with female students.
As a case in point, over the past 10 years, the Computer Integrated Machining Program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology (TSCT) in Lancaster, PA, has enrolled only one female in each cohort of 25 students. In order to achieve a more diverse cohort, and attract more interest in manufacturing, the staff at TSCT decided to focus their attention on this gender gap.
Faculty from several departments, including the Computer Integrated Machining Program, applied for – and received – a $200,000 Advanced Technological Education grant from the National Science Foundation (the College’s first) to develop awareness of manufacturing careers among female high school students.
The 3-year project, labeled Skilled Women Get STEM Jobs, gives young women the opportunity to learn about manufacturing careers through industry and campus tours. Students are introduced to female role models working in industry, and participate in hands-on workshops that allow them to better understand the many career opportunities available in advanced manufacturing. Over the past 3 years, more than 300 young women have participated in these industry tours. Since the project was implemented, TSCT has seen a notable increase in female student enrollment, with four female students enrolled in the Fall 2019 freshman class.
Another contributing factor to the increase in female student enrollment is the new Gene Haas Laboratory for Computer Integrated Machining at the Thaddeus Stevens College Advanced Manufacturing Center, near the main campus in Lancaster. This 100,500-square-foot laboratory, which replaced a well-aged facility, provides equal facilities for all students, and accurately represents the modern equipment they will encounter in today’s machining industry. The new facility features 24 Haas CNC machines, many of which feature live tooling or multi-axis capability, to help digital natives realize the endless potential these modern machines offer for creativity.
Understanding that female students were more likely to imagine themselves in a manufacturing career if they saw other females confidently running machines, programming, and performing manufacturing-related tasks, TSCT modified campus-wide brochures, posters, and other literature to be more inclusive, showing female students actively participating in the school’s manufacturing programs. The faculty also worked closely with representatives from the local Haas Factory Outlet to create a new Haas Technical Education Center banner featuring female students running machines in the TSCT Haas lab. This campus-wide change helps create a more welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for all students.
Expanding their reach even further, the staff at TSCT worked with key role models at local high schools – science, math, and technology education instructors – to seek out the young women who would benefit most from these tours. In just a short time, TSCT had small cohorts of students asking engaging questions, and showing genuine interest in manufacturing.
The committed faculty at TSCT believes their model can easily be duplicated in schools all over the world. The inclusive environment, with supporting literature and signage, is key, as is finding a pipeline to select the best candidates possible.
“It is up to all of us to work together to bring industry the most diverse but qualified candidates we can offer, in order to compete globally,” says Alex Surra, instructor in the Computer Integrated Machining Program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. He asks HTEC members across the globe: “How are you going to make a difference this year for your institution, the industry, and the young people who are unaware of our trade?”