Honda Initiative Clears Career Path to Manufacturing

In its latest effort to cultivate next-generation manufacturers, Honda North America launches a $1 million workforce training initiative in Ohio, where the effort is credited with offering more than the latest and greatest industrial technologies.

The automaker’s study program teaches “that to prepare students for career and college readiness we must also focus on collaboration, communication, perseverance and problem-solving,” Kathy McKinnis, principal of Marysville Early College High School, tells WardsAuto in a phone interview.

The high school, with a specialized curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), was established in 2014 through a grant by the state’s “Straight A Fund” and since has developed in collaboration with Honda, Columbus State Community College, the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center and Union County Chamber of Commerce.

Honda actively works with the school in configuring study spaces, selecting lab equipment, picking out instructors and creating the curriculum for the manufacturing education pathway, which so far has attracted 45 of the high school’s 143 students, according to McKinnis.

The Honda technicians and engineers who participate in the program are tasked with finding opportunities for students to learn about manufacturing careers through tours and know-how sharing sessions.

“I think that our partnership with Honda has helped us better understand the workforce needs in advanced manufacturing,” McKinnis says, further noting the automaker has pledged to “stand ready to support our school with mentoring and providing our students with real-world problems and challenges.”

The company’s involvement in the high school curriculum “is the culmination of many creative partnerships we have forged with educators, businesses and Honda associates to help design this program,” Rick Schostek, executive vice president-Honda North America, says in a company statement. He confirms the initiative will be used as a model by Honda and supplier operations for similar programs in other areas of the country.

But a high school presence is just one part of Honda’s so-called EPIC manufacturing initiative, dubbed after its four main goals:

  • Create Enthusiasm about manufacturing among middle school students.
  • Generate Passion among high schoolers for harnessing the power of technology.
  • Promote Innovative instruction at 2-year colleges.
  • Maintain a continuing Commitment to further educational opportunities for company associates.

Beyond Marysville Early College High School, Honda has spearheaded several other middle school, high school and college-level programs aimed at identifying and inspiring potential associates. They include:

  • Working with Edheads, a Hilliard, OH, educational-game developer, to create a first-of-its kind manufacturing video game designed for classroom use. The game teaches logic and critical thinking and takes the user to an engine-production line where they apply math and problem-solving skills to find answers to real-world problems.
  • Collaborating with other businesses and schools to create hands-on manufacturing activities in six mobile teaching labs, which include production robotics and other trappings from the real-world manufacturing environment.
  • Teaming with Ohio-based TechCorps – which develops and stages youth-oriented technology introduction programs – to hold full-day, weeklong summer “Techie Camps” where middle-school students are able to immerse themselves in activities such as computer programming, and web and app development.
  • Nominating and helping fund up to five schools in three counties to become part of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation’s PRIME initiative, which will open the schools to receive funding from Honda for advanced curriculum and support of STEM activities.
  • Partnering with a number of 2-year colleges in the Central Ohio region to create manufacturing opportunities and innovative training strategies for incoming high-school graduates.
  • Establishing 12 new scholarships of $2,500 each for students opting to pursue associate’s degrees in manufacturing or mechanical-engineering technology from local colleges.
  • Developing pilot work-study programs at Columbus State Univ. and other colleges, giving up to 18 students at each participating school the chance to work three days a week at Honda while continuing to attend classes the remaining two.

Tech Training Extends to Current Workforce

The automaker will work on keeping its own associate ranks up-to-date on the industry’s latest production technology with enhanced training in specialized areas throughout the company. It will open new technical development centers at two of the company’s Ohio production facilities, the Anna Engine Plant and Marysville Auto Plant, says Scot McLemore, Honda’s manager of technical workforce development.

The impetus behind EPIC was the realization that the auto industry as a whole will be facing a lack of manufacturing expertise in years to come, either because the skills of those in the current workforce will be outdated or the number of newly minted mechanics and engineers entering the marketplace will fall short of demand, says McLemore, who has worked extensively in recruiting and training new manufacturing associates since joining Honda as an entry-level engineer 25 years ago.

At Honda, “we’re always continuing to innovate both out products and the technology to build those products…so in order to continue to do that, we have to have a highly skilled and highly technical workforce,” McLemore tells WardsAuto.

“We’re realizing that there aren’t enough young people pursuing technical careers…in the area of manufacturing. We’re starting to see signs of a lack of supply of that talent. But the company’s biggest concern is, as we continue to innovate this technology and implement it into our operations, that skill gap is only going to increase.”

McLemore also cites the 2015 Skills Gap study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute that indicates there will be a need for more than 3.4 million manufacturing jobs over the next 10 years, but nearly 60% – about 2 million of those positions – will go unfilled.

A 2013 study by the Boston Consulting Group similarly estimates current growth trends in the manufacturing sector could lead to about 2.5 million to 5 million new jobs in the U.S. by 2020. That same analysis, instead of faulting the education system, emphasizes the need for companies to establish training and outreach efforts like Honda’s EPIC to meet the expected workforce needs head-on.

Still, says McLemore, he’s seen firsthand that community colleges “are not able to supply us with the talent that we need. And I also hear this from other manufacturers as I partner with them on advisory committees to solve this problem.”

Far from the longstanding perception of it as a “dingy, dark and undesirable” field, as people thought “say, back in 1985, that time period…I think manufacturing is a great opportunity for young people, and they just need to be made more aware of what great careers you can have in manufacturing,” McLemore says. “It’s exciting, it’s innovative, the technology inside the facilities is completely different.

“Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that conversation happening…It’s not happening at the schools, it’s not really happening at the dinner table. “That’s really the essence of where we want to go with our EPIC initiative.”

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