Creators Wanted: Lighting the Spark for the Next-Gen Manufacturing Workforce

Carolyn Lee, Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute, talks STEM, students—and forming a coalition that inspires.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Carolyn Lee is the executive director of The Manufacturing Institute, the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation’s largest industrial trade association.

In her role, Ms. Lee leads the Institute in its goal of supporting the manufacturing workforce of today and growing the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow. The Institute does so through a variety of programs designed to excite, educate and empower—with a particular focus in four key areas: women, veterans, youth and lifelong learning.

Ms. Lee was raised in a manufacturing family. She saw from a young age the transformative impact manufacturing can have on communities, families and the men and women who build the world around us. Now it’s what drives her every day as she works to bring manufacturing’s powerful potential to more Americans.  

‘STEM is at the heart of modern manufacturing. The opportunity to see STEM brought to life to create things is sure to light a spark for many students.’

Prior to her role leading the Institute, Ms. Lee served in a policy role at the NAM and worked in leadership positions with the Telecommunications Industry Association and 3M and in the offices of former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and former Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY).

Ms. Lee lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three children.

Tell me about the Manufacturing Institute—what is their mission and what is your role? 

The Manufacturing Institute is the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers. We are dedicated to supporting the manufacturing workforce of today and growing the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow through a variety of programs designed to excite, educate and empower with a particular focus in four key areas: women, veterans, youth and skills training.

What is your interest in helping improve STEM Education across the country? 

The biggest challenge facing manufacturers continues to be finding the skilled workers they’ll need to continue growing. Today, about half a million manufacturing jobs are already going unfilled. Over the next decade, nearly five times as many (2.4 million) could go unfilled and about $2.5 trillion worth of GDP could be at risk, according to The Manufacturing Institute’s skills gap study with Deloitte.

In other words, there simply aren’t enough men and women with the right skills or interest in manufacturing careers already and the problem is only projected to get worse unless we get more young people engaged.

Increasing interest and education in STEM is a critical way to help turn the tide on this skills gap challenge. That’s why The Institute is working hard through multiple efforts (such as MFG Day)  to raise awareness, change perceptions about manufacturing and help students translate STEM skills learned in a classroom into fulfilling career opportunities in a growing industry. 

In the same regard, we are engaged in a variety of efforts to increasingly set more Americans at every stage of life on paths of lifelong (e.g., supporting training and educational programs to connect aspiring manufacturers with current manufacturing opportunities, helping them access training for newer technology-intensive jobs).

What is the STEM Careers Coalition—and why did you select the Coalition as your vehicle for supporting STEM teaching and learning? 

Discovery Education’s proven reputation as a developer of curriculum for K-12 classes and schools across the country couldn’t be beat. The opportunity to work with the coalition to modernize the perception of manufacturing and STEM careers is timely and essential for manufacturers in the U.S.to grow and compete. We are excited to work with Discovery Education and the Coalition to excite, educate and empower the next generation of the manufacturing workforce. 

The STEM Careers Coalition is focused on bringing digital resources to schools nationwide; why is that so important?  

For students to understand the role of STEM in careers, they need to experience it first-hand but we need to reach them where they are – in our schools. Through the Coalition’s work, we’ll be able to tell the story of modern manufacturing and the opportunities for innovation, growth and problem solving in our sector. The ability to bring these careers to life to students across the country is something we’re excited to do with the Coalition and amplify via our Creators Wanted campaign at the NAM and MI.

‘For students to understand the role of STEM in careers, they need to experience it first-hand but we need to reach them where they are – in our schools.’

How do educators get involved in this effort?  

Educators interested in getting involved in this effort are encouraged to visit https://stemcareerscoalition.org for details.

What can your members learn from teachers in the classroom?  What lessons can they learn from you? 

While the MI doesn’t have members, as a public nonprofit we work to educate parents, students and teachers as well as the general public about the promise of modern manufacturing. We understand how essential it is to bring the sector to life to students so that they can see first-hand the innovations and technology our sector uses every day to solve the world’s challenges. We can bring this to life through the STEM Careers Coalition and work with students and teachers locally as well.

Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize concerning STEM, your work, or students and their future?  

STEM is at the heart of modern manufacturing. The opportunity to see STEM brought to life to create things is sure to light a spark for many students. We are excited to work with the Coalition partners to bring the story of modern manufacturing to life and bring more students—including more young women—into manufacturing career pathways. We want to make sure they know that Creators are Wanted from all walks of life, regardless of gender, ethnicity or background, and that the opportunity for a successful productive career is within reach with STEM skills. 

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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