ALLENTOWN – A rotational internship program created by B. Braun Medical Inc. is changing the way students view careers in manufacturing and helping to fill the workforce pipeline in the Lehigh Valley.
The pilot program was so successful it is expanding for the 2014-15 school term and being touted as a very promising education model to address workforce needs within manufacturing and other industry sectors experiencing worker shortages in the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania.
A cooperative initiative of the Lehigh Career & Technical Institute (LCTI), Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board and four local manufacturers, individuals associated with the work-based learning program say it is quite unique.
“It’s unique because it is industry-driven,” said Jan Klevis, Director of Postsecondary & Workforce Education at LCTI. “Rex Boland (of B. Braun) stood up at a meeting in front of an audience of his peers and asked who wanted to participate in it. It’s also unique because the students got to experience different types of manufacturing, and while learning new skills, they were compensated for the work they did.”
Students were paired with mentors and spent a month at a time at one company to learn job skills and gain valuable insight and exposure into manufacturing career opportunities, then rotated to one of the other participating businesses including ATAS International, Dynalene Inc., and Nestle Waters North America.
Boland, Vice President and General Manager, B. Braun’s Allentown plant, said the eight students, who were in their junior or senior year of high school, learned about manufacturing-oriented positions at those businesses.
“These companies see it as an investment in the students and their businesses,” Boland said, “At school, they receive the book training, but here is the real world. When the students go on the plant floor, they see that book learning come alive.”
The seeds for this groundbreaking initiative were sown when Gov. Tom Corbett led a delegation of business leaders and state officials to Europe during the Team Pennsylvania Foundation-funded trade mission to France and Germany in 2012. While in Germany, Corbett learned about their education model, according to Boland.
“German students are exposed to technical careers in the 7th and 8th grades and their schools have a close working relationship with industry,” Boland said. “So, Gov. Corbett asked what can we do in Pennsylvania to generate interest in skilled trade jobs with our students because the earlier you get them interested, the better off you will be.”
Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director, Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board (WIB), said her organization functioned like a wedding planner, working to assist LCTI and the four business partners to ensure the program benefitted both parties.
“We see this as a model program for the entire workforce, regardless of the type of occupation,” Dishinat said. “Why can’t we do this for healthcare? Why can’t we do this for sales? Manufacturing is our biggest need, so that is why we focused on it first, and because we have one of the best technical schools in the country producing a very good product.”
Klevis said LCTI offered mentor training for the adults while the students underwent a rigorous process, which included the submission of a cover letter, an initial interview and follow-up panel interview with WIB and company officials. The only regret students shared during their exit interviews was that the program should have been longer.
When the program ramps up in November, it will expand to include more students, more businesses, and longer terms while including the other two technical schools in the Lehigh Valley. Klevis said she sees a definite paradigm shift in the way manufacturing is being viewed by students and their parents.
“What all this is doing is changing the dialogue about manufacturing jobs among the kids and maybe the discussion at home,” Klevis said. “Here we had a high-level employer in B. Braun coming to talk to them and they started to see that this was real and the opportunities before them.”
The reaction among students on campus – and parents – has been positive, Klevis added.
“The students all enjoyed it tremendously and said they would do it again,” Klevis said. “We had students here in our traditional coop say, ‘hey, how can we get into that?’ For us, that was great because you want to see the lower level students, the sophomores and juniors, see it and aspire to it. The parents were there (at the closing banquet) and they were very proud of their children and what they had accomplished.”
Boland added the program has been featured by the United Kingdom-based The Manufacturing Institute as a model to encourage students to engage in manufacturing careers as part of its “dream It. Do It. initiative.”
For Boland, the success of this program fulfills a passion to see students choose a career in manufacturing, either as an option in lieu of college or after they graduate from college. He said several of the students in the inaugural year worked there as interns this past summer and have inquired about employment with B. Braun upon graduation from LCTI, which is truly the biggest indicator of the program’s success.
“It is a real shame that we have really good-paying manufacturing jobs that nobody knows about,” Boland said. “This has been the coolest thing and it still chokes me up when I think about it, but our employees took these young men and treated them as if they were their own sons or grandsons. It was truly something to see and our employees really feel that they are making a positive impact on the students lives, and from what I can see, they truly are!”