Early College, Early Career starts students on shop floors to fill growing, complex jobs in manufacturing

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Many manufacturers across the United States are begging for skilled workers to fill positions, and manufacturers in northeastern Ohio are no exception. Enter MAGNET (Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network), an organization based in Cleveland that helps such regional businesses grow and compete. MAGNET is sponsoring a workforce program to interest area high school students in manufacturing careers and to get them paid internships on shop floors well before graduation. The program is called Early College Early Career. For details, we contacted Terrence Robinson, vice president for workforce development and economic inclusion at MAGNET:

Q: Tell us about MAGNET, its origins and its current role in manufacturing in northeastern Ohio. 

terrence robinsonA: For more than 30 years, MAGNET, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has championed northeastern Ohio manufacturing, helping small manufacturers grow throughout the 21 counties of our region.

During that time, MAGNET has developed a wide range of hands-on consulting services for manufacturers as part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and Ohio MEP.

These services, which include product and process development, workforce development initiatives and lean/operations consulting, help companies by improving top-line revenue and job retention as well as driving manufacturing and economic development in northeastern Ohio.

During the past 10 years, MAGNET has become active in workforce development. As manufacturers grow through consulting services, they need to hire, train and retain employees. To assist with this process, MAGNET has created fast-track training programs for adults at three local community colleges, offers career awareness programming to area high schools, places high school interns and faculty externs and more.

The Early College Early Career program is the latest offering for northeastern Ohio manufacturing companies, designed to fill their short- and long-term talent pipelines. Through growing our region’s manufacturing sector, MAGNET helps create more vibrant communities, increases economic inclusion and builds a stronger northeastern Ohio.

Q: Tell us more about Early College Early Career (ECEC). When was it launched, and what prompted its creation?

A: Manufacturing is the past and future driver of northeastern Ohio’s economy, with roughly 11,000 manufacturers employing more than 275,000 people, an average annual growth rate of one percent, and more than 49,000 additional job openings expected by 2025. We have created ECEC specifically to help northeastern Ohio’s manufacturing companies address their desperate need for new, long-term employees.

Along the way, ECEC will break the cycle of poverty, increase career readiness, build social equality, offer economic opportunity to all and increase middle-class employment for every high school student in northeastern Ohio. We aim to re-establish the social elevator allowing people of all backgrounds to enter the middle class through rewarding careers in manufacturing.

In response to demands by the area’s largest manufacturing companies, MAGNET’s ECEC program started in 2014, when MAGNET and McKinsey & Company management consultants partnered to identify successful work-based learning programs throughout the country, including examining the models and results of other youth manufacturing programs such as GPS Education Partners;  Blue Valley CAPS; Core Plus; Dream It. Do It.; A-TEAM; and Project Lead the Way.

The study uncovered best practices — career awareness, parental engagement, soft-skills development, mentoring, employer engagement, industry recognized credentials and college credit — all of which were then incorporated into ECEC.

Many existing apprenticeship programs contain one or two of these elements, but ECEC combines all elements into a comprehensive career pathway to success. We will discuss each of these elements, and how ECEC addresses them, during our presentation (more information below).

Webinar: Manufacturing internship takes urban students inside careers

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 4:00 pm
Eastern Standard Time (New York, GMT-05:00)

Register here.

Through Battelle’s partnership with LIFT (Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow), the Ohio STEM Learning Network is working to increase awareness of jobs in advanced manufacturing in support of MakerMinded. MakerMinded is an online STEM platform where students learn about advanced manufacturing and find experiences that set them on track towards advanced manufacturing careers.

Wednesday, hear directly from Terrence Robinson about what’s led the MAGNET’s Early Career, Early Career program to growth in this interactive webinar with Battelle’s Heather Sherman.

Q: Who is participating in the program, and how does it work?

A: We currently have 48 students from five high schools in three counties working in part-time paid internships at nine manufacturing companies.

Three of our schools are from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (Ginn Academy, John Marshall School of Engineering and MC2 STEM); one school in Lake County (Wickliffe High School); and one in Lorain County (Lorain High School).

Our manufacturing partners include: Lincoln Electric, Heisler Tool, Swagelok, Parker Hannifin, Nordson, Fredon, Universal Metal Products, Cutting Dynamics and Lorain County Automotive Systems.

For ninth-graders, we coordinate several touch points with the students, educators and parents to bring awareness about the opportunities in manufacturing careers.

For 10th-graders, we continue these touch points, as well as begin the intern-recruitment process, which includes putting the interested students through a basic online manufacturing-skills course covering shop safety, shop math and blueprint reading.

For 11th-graders, students work up to eight hours a week, getting paid, at their manufacturing work site. Students also take advantage of our partnerships with local community colleges to take College Credit Plus (CCP) classes. The students’ progress and experience are monitored by our internship specialist from Youth Opportunities Unlimited.

In the summer between 11th and 12th grades, students work full time at their internship site for six to eight weeks, getting a good grasp of what it takes to be a productive and valuable employee.

In 12th grade, students work at least 12 hours a week at their internship site and continue to take CCP classes. All students will be prepped to interview with their interning companies. By the spring, companies will make job offers to students they want to hire.

By the end of the program, students will have: two years of paid experience working in a manufacturing company, 15 to 18 direct college credits that can lead into an associate’s degree, an industry-recognized credential, WorkKeys testing preparation, soft-skills training and a professional resume/portfolio.

Q: What challenges have you faced along the way, and what changes have you made?

A: Transportation scheduling and cost have been a challenge. To alleviate this, we switched from buses to a well-known and reliable taxi company that is insured to transport unaccompanied minors. This has cut our costs significantly.

Age restrictions posed a problem at first. We had to learn what the students can and can’t do by law. Also, we had to learn what the companies’ restrictions were and what they weren’t willing to adjust for the sake of the program.

Q: How has this program benefited all who participate?

A: For schools: This program is aligned with Ohio Department of Education 2018 career readiness graduation pathway, therefore helping school districts increase their graduation rates.

For students: This program has given a pathway to students to have a sustainable career after high school. It also benefits those who want to go to college but cannot pay for it by themselves.

In addition, most students did not know much about manufacturing or were scared, but after just the first semester in the program, several students know they want to do their best in the internship because they want a job at that company after graduation. Several students said they now want a career in manufacturing. A couple of students said they are getting more college application invites because of their impressive work in their CCP classes.

For community colleges: They can expose more kids to the college experience through the CCP classes. They love the combination that the students are getting with the classes and their internships. The students have a place where they can immediately practice the skills taught in the classroom.

Companies: The companies get to groom their own workforce and expand and deepen their talent pipeline, not just in regard to skill but also with company culture. Some of our companies have improved their own hiring and onboarding procedures as a side benefit from having to do it for our students.

Instead of competing, many manufacturing companies are comparing notes on human resources policies and how to get younger kids on the shop floor; department rotation schedules; and basic skills needed across the board for entry-level positions.

Q: Do you think this program could be duplicated in other regions? What would you advise those who might wish to try?

A: This program can be duplicated in other regions. But first, you must be aware of all the child-labor laws and restrictions. Companies will have a lot of questions and even some inaccurate beliefs about what the laws say. It is up to you to educate them.

It is also imperative that you get buy-in from the superintendents of the school districts where you want to launch the program — a flexible student schedule is key to the program.

Q: How could readers get more information? 

A: You can visit our website:, or contact me at 216-432-4022 or at

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