As Seen in the Grand Rapids Business Journal

Posted in Blog on September 30, 2019

Opening Doors So Students Can Discover Manufacturing


By  Amanda Cooper, Director of Talent Initiatives, Lakeshore Advantage

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

We all face that question, several times, on our way to adulthood — and sometimes beyond.

My own answers to the question have evolved over the years: gymnast (age 6), teacher (age 10), writer (age 13), pediatrician (age 17) and news producer (age 19).

Thinking about these answers makes me smile. My answers reflected the cumulative life experience I had at a particular moment in time — watching Mary Lou Retton in the ’84 Summer Olympics, hanging on every word of an adored fifth grade teacher, entering the Young Authors’ Festival, shadowing an ER nurse for a school project, touring WZZM-TV 13 as a college freshman. Each experience became an important data point in my understanding of what options were available to me when I grew up.

But what about those careers I had no exposure to? My choices were limited to the things I knew — regardless of where the real opportunities were.

This is the challenge our local manufacturers face. Manufacturing supplies our community with abundant, challenging jobs in a wide range of occupations that pay 35% higher wages than the average of all jobs in our region and come with ample opportunities for professional growth. Despite the clear benefits of these positions, employers struggle to fill them.

This well-known talent problem is complex and multifaceted. Issues like affordable post-secondary education, housing and transportation all come into play. It cannot be solved overnight. However, there is a small action we can take right now that has the potential for immediate impact. And it’s pretty simple: introduce kids to manufacturing.

Manufacturing is a mystery for many young people. For many kids, their only experience with manufacturing is driving past a big building with no windows. They have no idea of the innovation and creation that happens inside.

That’s why Discover Manufacturing Week is so important.

During the first week of October, hundreds of West Michigan manufacturers will open their doors to thousands of kids from elementary school through high school to see the wide variety of work being done. And, more importantly, to learn about the wide variety of careers available.

At Lakeshore Advantage, we are thrilled about Discover Manufacturing Week. Getting the next generation interested and excited about manufacturing is critical for our region’s long-term economic health and vitality.

Do you remember being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up? What experiences led you to your line of work?” By supporting Discover Manufacturing Week, we can help our young people add careers like welder, technical writer, facilities director and electrical engineer to their portfolio of opportunities.

Amanda Cooper is the director of talent initiatives at Lakeshore Advantage and champions the cause of career awareness.