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Schools match skills to local economic needs

Manufacturing education programs at Jay School Corporation and Palm Beach Schools

In rural Indiana, Jay School Corporation supports local manufacturers—which make up about half the private employment in Jay County—with educational programs geared to the jobs that need to be filled.

The school now has 80 students in manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and robotics programs, and is working with other organizations and a nearby college to develop a regionally recognized certificate.

“We are creating an employer-driven program for both adults and students, focusing on economic outcomes and the talent pipeline,” Superintendent Jeremy Gulley says.

Students can earn college credit, and the program takes the added step of bringing parents to local companies, which helps break down misconceptions about manufacturing.

“What many parents don’t understand is what advanced manufacturing looks like today,” Gulley says. “Before, it was dirty, dingy, rote and boring. Now it’s a clean environment based on problem-solving.”

Grant money also funds a part-time career advocate who has placed at least 18 Jay district students in internships.

Palm Beach Schools in Florida operates a high-tech manufacturing program, thanks to a partnership with the sugar industry, which uses automated equipment in processing plants.

The district is reopening West Tech in August, a small alternative high school serving Belle Glade, a community near Lake Okeechobee where unemployment hovers near 30 percent. The state contributed $1.4 million to renovate West Tech, and $10 million from sales tax will pay for computer labs and other equipment.

Students will finish the program with industry certifications.

The programs include mechatronics, a multidisciplinary field in which students learn to fix a range of modern manufacturing equipment. Mechatronics jobs pay a median wage of nearly $96,000 a year.

But it can be difficult to lure qualified teachers away from industry jobs, says Peter Licata, director of choice and career options for Palm Beach Schools. “It’s hard to find a teacher who will take a 50 percent pay cut,” he says. “We really need to rethink what we pay.”