Reimagining Workforce Development in Advanced Manufacturing and STEM
By Brynt Parmeter and Emily McGrath, NextFlex
Preparing the next generation workforce for jobs of the future is a well-recognized need in communities throughout the nation. Yet, complexities arising from red tape, outmoded forms of instruction, diverse stakeholder groups, and misaligned funding priorities create major hurdles to building the kind of coalition required to truly move the needle. To facilitate the creation of a next generation talent pipeline at scale, NextFlex has developed a portfolio of workforce programs that bring partners from across the spectrum of workforce development stakeholders to ensure businesses have the depth and diversity of talent required to drive innovation and remain globally competitive.
NextFlex (not to be confused with you TV streaming provider Netflix) is a Manufacturing USA Institute established in August 2015 under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense. We operate as a consortium of 100 companies, academic institutions, and not-for-profit organizations, along with partners representing federal agencies and state and local governments who share the goal of developing a competitive ecosystem for advanced manufacturing in the United States.
As a Manufacturing USA Institute, NextFlex largely focuses on the development and commercialization of Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE), such as wearable circuits that can be imbedded into clothing to monitor heart rate and hydration, for instance. In addition to this specific technical focus, however, NextFlex has a parallel mandate to create the advanced manufacturing workforce of the future—the ranks of skilled, creative, and analytical thinkers who will power the technology sector and ensure the nation’s economic competitiveness and defensive capabilities into the 21st century and beyond.
One of the newest workforce initiatives was launched last fall in a partnership lead by Evergreen Valley College (EVC). Working together, EVC and NextFlex designed a new Advanced Manufacturing Technology program intended to create a pool of technician and technologist talent desperately needed by local industry. Curriculum for the program is guided by an Industry Advisory Board with representatives from companies like Cobham, DuPont, and Jabil. This breadth of industry’s involvement ensures students will receive training that is relevant and transferable to a wide range of local employers.
To supplement and enhance instruction in the classroom, industry representatives will participate in the education process through guest lectures, hosted labs, facility tours, and teacher externships. Additionally, a capstone class of the second year will include a ‘Learn & Earn’ program where students will balance their classroom studies with paid internships. The program’s dynamic approach to learning will ensure students have the foundational technical knowledge, professional experience, and networks to transition smoothly into employment.
The program will launch in Fall 2019 with a cohort of local students. In-line with the Silicon Valley mentality of “just start and keep iterating,” the Industry Advisory Board, EVC, and NextFlex will continue to work closely together to adjust the structure and curriculum as-needed.
To celebrate the creation of the program, NextFlex and EVC held a Symposium in June with the range of local stakeholders. Speakers included Assemblymember Kansen Chu, San Jose Vice Mayor Jones, California Assistant Secretary of Labor John Dunn, Evergreen Valley College President Keith Aytch and Dean of Business and Workforce Dr. Maniphone Dickerson, and San Jose Evergreen Community College District Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships Dr. William Watson. Attendees included students, faculty and administrators from K-12 districts and higher education, government, and aligned nonprofits.
Through this public-private partnership approach to workforce development, our coalition of stakeholders has created a sustainable model for preparing and empowering young adults for the future and ensuring that both our region and our nation can continue to lead in the development and manufacture of new technologies. If you would like to learn how your organization or business can get involved, we encourage you to check out our website at https://www.nextflex.us/learning-programs/ or contact Emily McGrath at firstname.lastname@example.org.