Education

Building Interest In Manufacturing at an Early Age

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On a recent plant tour in Germany, Ken Timmings was struck by a simple demonstration a German technician gave a group of students who happened to be visiting the factory the day he visited.

While the demonstration seemed routine, Timmings was most impressed with the audience: a handful of wide-eyed children ages five and six.

“I’ve had the opportunity in my career to travel all over the world and work with partners in Germany for 25 years,” says Timmings, the manager of KTSDI LLC in North Lima. “Every month, the kindergartens are going out to our partners. They are engaging these students either in schools, the classrooms or at on-site training facilities.”

The objective is to expose children at a very early age to basic concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, Timmings says. Germany, much like the United States, is confronted with many of the same challenges when it comes to a well-trained and educated workforce in the manufacturing sector: There are simply not enough young people entering industrial careers.

While the country was successful in developing apprentice programs for those ages 15 to 18, Germany thought it wise over the last 25 years to reach back even further into a child’s education and introduce programs geared as early as kindergarten.

“They’re starting this model at a much younger age,” he says.

That’s precisely what Timmings wants to see replicated here in the Mahoning Valley. The result is a new program that will make its debut this spring at West Boulevard Elementary and Stadium Drive Elementary schools in Boardman. “Our idea here is to plant the seed at K-4, starting with the Boardman school system,” Timmings says.

KTDSI remanufactures, distributes and engineers components for the heavy transportation market; many of the original equipment manufacturers the company partners with are based in Europe. The company also manufactures special vehicles for the heavy lift, shipbuilding and other industries.

Timmings recently provided an update on his program to the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.

The MVMC – an organization composed of local manufacturers, economic and workforce development organizations and academia – has helped to support educational outreach programs such as apprenticeships and other training initiatives. The objective is to build a pipeline of skilled workers to staff the technical manufacturing jobs of the future.

Jessica Borza, executive director of the coalition, says that early educational programs that relate to manufacturing are important. “This is fundamental to the work of the coalition,” she says.

West Boulevard’s is a one-day event scheduled sometime in April – no firm date has yet been set – and is open to kindergarteners. It will last about two hours. Stadium Drive Elementary’s program is open to grades K-4, and scheduled all day either May 17 or 18 in the school gymnasium, Timmings says.

“We really wanted to try it,” says Michael Zoccali, principal of Stadium Drive Elementary. The objective is to set up 10 tables in the gym, each representing a concept related to manufacturing or science. “We want the students to explore measuring, designing, building. I’m one who is in favor of getting their hands as dirty as possible,” he says of the hands-on experience.

Each grade will take turns visiting each station, spending 15 to 20 minutes at a table, Zoccali says. “We’re hoping that every grade will have about 90 minutes,” he says. Among the activities would be teaching youngsters the fundamental concepts of how to build a boat, for example, with the use of tin foil and pennies. About 400 students will participate.

Timmings has seen regional companies use everyday items to demonstrate the manufacturing process – items that children can relate to. “We’ve talked to companies such as Lincoln Electric in Cleveland about their educational outreach,” he says. That program has used pretzel sticks to simulate welding rods, and then demonstrated their applications. “We’re hoping to bring in companies with their own ideas.”

Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Center for Science & Technology, the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center and KTSDI have partnered with the school on this effort, Timmings says. He is soliciting volunteer companies and organizations as well to help staff the events.

Timmings, a long-time advocate of preparing young people for careers in manufacturing, has consistently volunteered to help middle school students in the Mahoning Valley acquire the basic knowledge that could lead them down this path.

His company regularly participates in the Summer Manufacturing Institute, a multi-week workshop open to kids in the fourth through sixth grades over the summer that Oh Wow! and the Youngstown YWCA host.

“We want to introduce this to children and show them what it really means,” Timmings says. “We’re looking ahead to the class of 2025 or 2030. This is an investment for us, for the future of the Valley.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.