For the second year, Explore the New Manufacturing is hosting the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge for high school career and technical education students. Partnering with West Virginia businesses, Manufacturing Innovation Challenge projects give high school teams the opportunity to find solutions to real-world manufacturing problems. Teams tackle existing product problems and develop the application of concept ideas. Each challenge is unique and can come from various aspects of the company's operations. All projects are aligned with West Virginia Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) standards, curriculum, project-based learning efforts, and career exploration programs.
The past year has been a whirlwind of uncertainty and adaptability for the Explore the New Manufacturing Program and our manufacturing and educational partners. Our main concern quickly became what we could do to support teachers and their students when normalcy was no longer something that anyone could take for granted.In reflection, the Explore team's pivots throughout 2020-2021 allowed us to develop a new virtual program and introduce a new high school program while flexing existing programming to accommodate virtual tools.We ended the year stronger and are ready for the next challenge.
Over the past three years, as the Explore the New Manufacturing Program has expanded to new regions, our team has worked with students and educators to increase the understanding of manufacturing across the state. We have been amazed by student talent and poise. The educators, who participate in our programs, are steadfast champions for their students, tirelessly seeking means to help them succeed in their personal career development. As a result, we decided it was imperative to celebrate these West Virginians, both locally and statewide, for their success and achievements.
On September 20, 2017, during its 14-day run, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake. Afterward, the hurricane's impact reverberated far beyond Puerto Rico's borders, and its ripples continued well after it made landfall. Three months later, in late December, my dad had a heart attack, a catalytic event that sent his health plummeting through a multi-week downward spiral. Each 24-hour cycle brought a dizzying array of testing, procedures, and diagnoses, his life primarily supported by tubes and machines. As he slipped through different layers of consciousness, his weight began to wither away from the lack of sustenance. Medical practitioners voiced concern about the capacity to feed him intravenously due to limited supplies. We heard their trepidation about shortages of IV bags and other medical supplies due to the wreckage Hurricane Maria caused to the manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico that produce them. Although Hurricane Maria never hit West Virginia, we were now feeling its aftermath and hearing the rattling of the missing links within supply chains. When a simple plastic bag or IV supplementation might stand between whether a loved one lives or not, manufacturing gets personal very quickly.
2020. Pandemic. Shutdowns. School closures. Last January, if someone would have suggested that a pandemic would strike, halting all in-person activities and yet the Explore Program would cap the year in a stronger position than when 2020 began, I would have said, "Of course, we will." Truly, what other options are there? Manufacturers need skilled workers, and our state's young folks need the hope that job opportunities await. Regardless of the circumstances 2020 presented, the alternative of not following through was simply not acceptable.
Manufacturing Innovation Challenge: West Virginia High School Students Partner With Manufacturers to Solve Challenges
Virgin Hyperloop's recent announcement that construction will soon begin on its 800-acre certification center in Grant and Hardy counties has created much excitement across the Mountain State. Additionally, the latest newsthat DST Innovations and Blue Rock Manufacturing have agreed to establish a new Morgantown-based facility for developing energy cells, with a second phase expansion for southern WV, is a promising message about forthcoming job opportunities in the state. However, these are not the only new businesses to make commitments in 2020 to planting their roots in West Virginia. As facility construction begins, it serves as a reminder that erecting educational pathways, so our workforce is ready when the doors open, is critical to long-term sustainability.
During National Manufacturing Month, as we continue forging ahead through the unprecedented reopening of schools this fall, we are excited about developing virtual connectivity between industry and education so that earlier efforts are not lost. We anticipate the new virtual platforms will expand outreach efforts to more areas around the state. Launching this month, Manufacturing Day Virtual Labs will feature manufacturers demonstrating processes and interactive labs for remote learning application. Both the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge and the What's So Cool About Manufacturing? Student video contest will be modified virtually for the coming year. We have also established an Educator's Roundtable to assist with evaluating programming strategies and program feedback. When possible, we plan to reintroduce our in-person programming while utilizing these new virtual formats to fill gaps where it is logistically hard to offer in-school events.
In General Stanley McChrystal's book Team of Teams, the author shares the importance of adaptability and having the capacity to respond swiftly and effectively as situations arise. As a former educator, I experienced the constant need to adjust to new curriculums or adapt current ones to fit students' needs. More recently, as a process improvement specialist who worked with manufacturers across the state, I observed manufacturer response to changing markets, supply chains disruptions, and internal challenges. As technology has progressed, and done so at warp speed, a company's ability to pivot quickly and refocus effectively has become an integral part of successful strategic planning across all industries. But just when adaptability, as a means of driving operations, began weaving itself into normalcy, COVID-19 took the wheel and floored the pedal.
EMERGING ELITE IN MANUFACTURING AND INDUSTRY EDUCATOR AWARDS
Launched in 2020, the Emerging Elite in Manufacturing & Outstanding Industry Educator Awards celebrate the skills and dedication of students and educators across West Virginia. As the Explore Team worked with students and educators through a myriad of programs, we quickly noticed many students whose extraordinary talent and dedication and educators whose tireless commitment were unparalleled. We repeatedly found ourselves discussing that more West Virginians need to know about these highly skilled students and steadfast educators. Finally, the Explore Team determined to do just that; tell the stories of these individuals and recognize their commitment to manufacturing throughout the Mountain State.
"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness." - Desmond Tutu
Even in areas less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, its reverberations have been felt. From broadband limitations to supply chain constraints, restrictedaccessibility, and unfamiliar ways of interfacing, in addition to the worries and concerns about the virus itself, few areas geographically, and lesser areas demographically, have been unscathed in some fashion. Crises force us to adaptin order to survive and sustain. Yet, it leads us to respond and prevail in ways we wouldn'thave otherwise done without the urgency pressing us to do so.
An essential part of creating a link between education and industry is building relationships between manufacturers and educators, parents, community partners, and students. Explore the New Manufacturing programs are designed to facilitate interaction and engagement through hands-on, minds-on labs, workshops, competitions, and challenges.
Today is National Manufacturing Day, but we'll be highlighting the importance of manufacturing with multiple events across the state throughout the month.
For starters, National Manufacturing Day celebrates what is made in America as well as the hardworking men and women who are the backbone of any manufacturer. Today also is a day to increase awareness of what manufacturing is -- highly technical, highly skilled work — and what it is not — dirty, dank conditions with heavy labor performed by a male-preferred workforce.
It's no secret there is a skills gap at both the national and state levels that is ever-broadening due to technological advancement, among other factors. Speaking specifically to our state, there are West Virginians who need skills in order to acquire sustainable employment and yet there are jobs – good paying jobs - in our state right now that remain unfilled. Currently, in manufacturing alone there are approximately 1,000 job openings.The skills gap wasn't created in a day and we can't expect it to close in short order. But we do have to address it.