Robots with vision systems that can literally "read" and arrange tiles into words. Microscopes that create three-dimensional images. A virtual reality trainer that allows you to practice your welding on top of a skyscraper. An augmented reality experience that displays a moving car engine right in front of you, then responds to your approach by opening up to display its internal parts in motion.
No, this isn't science fiction, the latest James Bond film, or some top-secret government lab. This is the office of MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, headquartered in Cleveland and serving the 18 counties of Northeast Ohio. This 34-year-old nonprofit not only uses this equipment to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow through hands-on engineering support and technical assistance, but we have literally converted MAGNET from a drab office building to a "Manufacturing Technology Experience." Our goal is simple and clear: we want to inspire youth and adults to understand careers in manufacturing, and to consider the rewarding futures available to them through these lucrative, rewarding, and highly-sought after jobs.
I'm Ethan Karp, and for the past four years I've been CEO of MAGNET. In that time, we've made great strides to break the stereotype of manufacturing as the 3 D's: dark, dirty, and dangerous. Instead, we have used the latest technologies to convince people of all backgrounds that modern manufacturing is the 4 C's: cool, creative, challenging, and commendable.
Look around you. Everything you can touch and feel, all that stuff, was manufactured by someone, somewhere. Our job at MAGNET is to ensure that Northeast Ohio is not only making more stuff, but we're making the high-value stuff that we all rely on; it's that stuff - not just your car and cellphone, but your clothing, chair, and table - that pay living wages and provide for a clear, upward career path. There are people who like to sit behind desks and write articles like this one, and then there are people who like to construct the desks, chairs, and computers that make articles like this possible. Both career paths must be valued and respected and, more and more, the "makers" are earning high wages without the need for four-year college degrees.
When I came to MAGNET six years ago, one of the realizations I had was that the manufacturing workforce of tomorrow is not the same as the workforce of yesterday. We have to diversify our workforce - including more women, people of color, the formerly incarcerated, people with disabilities, and more - if we want to attract our next generation of workers.
But don't take my word for it; the statistics bear this out. According to recent statistics, just 25 percent of Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) students will receive a two- or four-year college degree within six years of graduating high school. Cuyahoga County in general has 21,000 "opportunity youth," young people ages 16-24 who are neither employed nor in school; in other words, 1 in 7 young people lack productive direction, which is 40 percent more than the US average.
At the same time, Cuyahoga County has 2,000 open positions in advanced manufacturing, with an average salary of $55,000 annually. The only way to bridge this gap, to connect young people (particularly those from Cleveland's inner city) to potential careers in manufacturing, is to revitalize manufacturing apprenticeships. In partnership with our Board Chair, Felix Brueck, and many local philanthropic funders including the Cleveland Foundation, we at MAGNET have taken the best parts of the European apprenticeship model and adapted them to Northeast Ohio's educational system.
We call our youth manufacturing apprenticeship program the Early College, Early Career program (ECEC), because we connect 11th graders to take college-level manufacturing classes and connect 12th graders to paid internships during the school day. As one of the most cutting-edge workforce development programs in the country, our ECEC program is a groundbreaking partnership with the local community colleges, employers, and high schools to offer clear, rewarding career pathways for students to explore their futures and maximize their potential. Through a combination of paid internships, soft skill development, mentoring, and college classes, ECEC forms a holistic career pathway that is changing how students see their futures. We know that these middle-class jobs, available immediately after high school graduation, will break the cycle of poverty amongst poor families and set students up for long-term success. ECEC students will have higher employment rates, better starting salaries, and more successful long-term careers. In many cases, these students will be the first in their families to go to college, ending the cycle of poverty.
In short, ECEC has 4 essential objectives:
- Raise awareness about manufacturing careers, especially amongst inner-city youth
- Develop successful pathways for students that combine education and work into a long-term, lucrative career
- Produce more skilled workers for our region's workforce
- Reinforce and grow connections between manufacturing businesses and the Cleveland community
And to reach those objectives, ECEC offers 3 essential inclusive activities:
- Work-based learning: ECEC facilitates a two-year paid internship, along with travel to and from that position.
- Education and Training: Using College Credit Plus, ECEC students can earn up to 15 college credits. They also earn an industry-recognized credential that they can take to any future employer.
- Support: ECEC offers mentoring, professional development, financial education, soft skills training, and other individualized student support, so ECEC graduates not only get a job but are well-prepared for their careers.
Built into ECEC from the start was a commitment to racial, gender, and socioeconomic equity. ECEC is bringing valuable educational experiences predominately to inner-city, low-income youth: 51% of Cohort 1 was African-American, and 68% of Cohort 2 is African-American. Overall, minority students make up 90% of Cohort 2. MAGNET has also improved its outreach to female students, increasing participation from 18% in Cohort 1 to 31% in Cohort 2.
A second critical guiding principle of ECEC is long-term scalability and sustainability, where employers see the business value of ECEC interns and provide the majority of the necessary funding. Cohort 1 just graduated in May, and we have some good initial data: of the 27 seniors that graduated, 21 will be attending college; that matriculation rate of 78 percent is far higher than Cleveland's current average of 45 percent. In addition, 11 have accepted part-or full-time employment at their current companies, and will leverage their employer's tuition reimbursement program to pay for their education. In total, all 27 students have started down a clear college and/or career path. For Cohort 2, with 43 students currently, we anticipate even better results based on improvements we have made to the program that have resulted in lower attrition and higher engagement. So while the first cohort gave us some initial data, the second cohort will have a much higher success rate - and a higher return-on-investment for employers. Determining that ROI is critical to making that vision of an employer-funded youth apprenticeship program a reality. Making this calculation accurately will only be possible in the Spring of 2020 with the graduation of Cohort 2.
To summarize, the robots, high-tech gear, and immersive technologies you will experience at our downtown Cleveland headquarters are just the beginning for MAGNET as we work to revitalize STEM education to fuel our region's manufacturing renaissance. Outside this office, we are focused on building ECEC to drive racial equity, improve education, and create more middle-class employment in Northeast Ohio. Every day, by driving manufacturing forward, we are ensuring more prosperity for local communities, and creating more paths to success for young people entering the workforce.
We appreciate working with GlobalMindED to bring our best practices to the national and global stage. It is an honor to be recognized among the outstanding inclusive leaders and finalists, highlighting our equity outcomes at MAGNET, as well as our ambitions and commitments ahead.