Students see future at historic Rouge

Touring Ford’s historic Rouge Plant is an eye-opening experience for most people.

Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL) was sure the same would be true for high school students and hosted more than 100 students, educators and business leaders from Akron, Ohio, at the legendary Ford Rouge Factory. The goal was to reveal the many interesting and rewarding career possibilities in modern-day manufacturing.

The talent shortage

Ford, its suppliers and companies across the U.S. manufacturing industry are facing a serious shortage of skilled employees in the years ahead. By 2030, experts predict the financial impact of the shortage will reach around $671 billion.

That’s because almost 50 percent of employers in the U.S. are struggling to fill skilled trades jobs. Employers are having trouble filling driver, sales representative, healthcare professional, teacher and technician positions as well.

Female students in Rouge Center preparing for a tour of the facility.
Ford NGL used the Rouge Factory Tour to introduce students, from Detroit area Powered by Ford STEAM Academies, to the career possibilities following a technical education.

Experts contend part of the problem has been a decades-long shift from encouraging youth to pursue skilled trades to pursuing only higher-education academic degrees. Yet while more than 33 percent of adults older than 25 have academic degrees, there are nearly 7 million job openings through the U.S., according to ManpowerGroup.

“Everybody wants their kids to go to college, but there is so much more out there especially when it comes to manufacturing,” said Melissa Walker, a science teacher at Barberton High School.

Brian Steere is co-president and CFO at Steere Enterprises, an Akron-area manufacturer of air induction systems for the automotive industry. He joined the Rouge trip to support his community and the students and to prepare for the future of his 70-year-old company.

“There’s a ton of engineering, robotics, all kinds of jobs that are needed,” Steere said. “We have an older workforce and we need to be recruiting the next generation.”

Training for the future

Ford is working to beef up talent pipelines with men and women trained in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) fields along with skills in technical disciplines that will be the foundation for producing new smart mobility solutions.

For its part, Ford NGL is working closely with high schools across the United States to train the next wave of skilled employees in engineering, information technology and manufacturing.

Ford STEM High School Community Challenge students in Rouge Center interactivity area.
Ford Motor Company’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) program is teaming up with Ford Next Generation Learning to provide $50,000 in grants to implement six student-led high school projects.

“With guidance from Ford’s Corporate STEAM Council, the career academies developed by Ford NGL and supported by local businesses and community leaders are preparing students for success in the workplace of tomorrow,” said Patrice Washington, student relations and STEAM coordinator for Ford NGL. “Ford has long been active in education and meeting the national challenge posed by worker shortages with important, positive steps to educate and train young people for some very good career opportunities.”

Events such as the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and Ford STEAM High School Community Challenge enhance the efforts of Ford NGL and Ford’s Corporate STEAM Council, which urges students to consider a technical education to secure good jobs and meet growing business demands that can lead to successful careers.

Uncovering the future at the Rouge

Inside the walls of Ford’s iconic Rouge Plant, students saw for themselves how the 100-year old factory transformed its 20th Century ingenuity into a robust hub of 21st Century technology and innovation. The students were not disappointed.

“It was really cool,” said Matt Burkhardt, an 11th grader at Ellet High School. “There’s a ton of opportunities and lots of different things that you can do.”

Guide talking to group of students about the Rouge factory process.
Ford employees interacts with students and answers questions about manufacturing.

Tour highlights

• Students saw rarely seen historical footage from The Henry Ford archives;
• Experienced multi-sensory manufacturing innovation film, complete with vibrating seats, wind gusts, winking robots, “floating” 3D projection mapping and a behind-the-wheel finale;
• Walked the actual Dearborn Truck assembly plant;
• Took an elevator observation deck to see Ford F-150s being assembled on the plant floor;
• Learned how an industry brownfield became a flourishing ecological habitat;
• And explored the Legacy Gallery’s impressive collection of the most famous Ford vehicles manufactured at the Rouge.

“I’ve always been engineer-minded. I think it’s a very cool thing that most girls should look into,” said Samantha Smith, a ninth grader at Barberton High School.

“It’s not like our parent’s or grandparent’s manufacturing jobs,” Walker said. “Everything we saw in here is so technology based. The students need to have technology skills and computer skills. It’s not just a manual labor job.”

Students also engaged with Ford employees and business professionals to learn more about the potential careers.

Jenny Stupica, director of manufacturing engagement at ConxusNEO, a partner with Ford NGL and Akron Public Schools, said “We are trying to connect companies who have jobs with folks in the community with the skills needed to fill those jobs. We hope when they graduate from high school students have a whole array of choices to take them to the next step in their career.”

Walker said, “Ford is trying to put their money where their mouth is as far as training and letting people know the skills they need to have these jobs. For so long, people shunned manufacturing, but now I think it’s making a big comeback.”

Steere agreed, “I’m hoping the students see how exciting and rewarding a future in manufacturing can be.”

Male teacher and three male students look down onto Rouge Factory floor.
Ford NGL engages parents and businesses to support the learning process.

Ford Fund — the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company — invests more than $18 million each year in forward-thinking education programs that make people’s lives better and help create individual and community prosperity.

For more information on Ford NGL and other education programs supported by Ford Fund, visit www.fordblueovalnetwork.org/programs.

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