Tips for a Successful Manufacturing Day

Lawrence County eighth graders designed simple machines. Fort Wayne Girl Scouts learned about prefab machining, and Lafayette students learned how the things they buy are possible because of fa defined production process. Other Indiana students participated in similar Manufacturing Day activities across the state, all with the same objective: expose young Hoosiers to advanced manufacturing.  

Conexus Indiana team members traveled the state to capture best practices from Manufacturing Day (the first Friday of each October). While companies, communities and schools employed various approaches to Manufacturing Day events, the most effective programs shared common themes. Following are some observations.

  1. Do it your way. The variety of activities and events made it clear that there’s no one way to leverage Manufacturing Day. Schools, organizations and employers showed a lot of creativity, tailoring experiences to the students, locale and manufacturing operations in the area. This helped students connect to the experiences and increased the likelihood for partnerships with employers.
  2. Make it hands-on. This might seem obvious, but it can’t be overstated. Getting the kids involved in hands-on activities engages them more completely. As Conexus Manager of Skills Alignment Christy Linn said, “It was really cool to see the kids light up during the hands-on experience.”
  3. Collaborate. Working with other area schools, organizations and businesses increases the likelihood for impact. For example, by working with Subaru of Indiana Automotive and other local makers, Lafayette-area organizers showed the breadth of opportunities available in advanced manufacturing and highlighted how the “Design It,” “Produce It,” “Move It” and “Support It” process translates to real jobs.
  4. Connect to students’ lives. The more you can help the kids understand how their lives connect to the world of advanced manufacturing, the more chance you have to make an impression. Even better if those connections are truly personal: Conexus Senior Director of Industry Partnerships Sonya Snellenberger said she saw Girl Scouts get “LIT up” when they stood in a production facility and were told, “This is like what your aunt/ brother/cousin/whoever does.”
  5. Don’t underestimate work culture. Sure, impress the kids with big machines and high-tech equipment lasers, but don’t forget to show off the things that make your workplace a great place to be. As Kyle Marshall, senior director of K-16 Education, said, “Sure, your robots are cool, but kids actually are going to comment on the ping pong table in the corner, or the nice kitchen, or how everyone was smiling.”
  6. Plan, but don’t overthink it. It’s important to have a well-planned program for Manufacturing Day, but don’t think you have to entertain the kids with big productions. “Don’t overcomplicate your process,” Snellenberger said, “A little thought and demonstration go a long way.”
  7. Go lower. The earlier you can reach the students, the better. While a lot of Manufacturing Day activities target high schoolers, Marshall saw great success in efforts for middle school students.
  8. Involve general ed teachers. While it certainly makes sense to have technical and vocational education teachers on board with Manufacturing Day programs, Marshall said he was impressed by the way the Coalition of Orleans, Mitchell & Shoals Schools (COSMOS) involved teachers from more general areas of education, helping to underscore that the advanced manufacturing sector needs people from all disciplines. 
  9. Make it fun. SMC Corp. of America sponsored a free showing of The Lego Movie inside its Noblesville production facility. In Lawrence County, kids came together for a team STEM challenge. In Fort Wayne, participating Girls Scouts earned badges. The lesson? Making the event fun will make a big impression. Linn saw this firsthand in Lafayette, where a teacher approached her to say he hadn’t seen any of his students smile that much all year.