Governor Tom Wolf recently approved funding support for a new initiative of the Millcreek Township School District (MTSD) and Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC). The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development Manufacturing Training to Career Grant Program will provide $197,363 for a new student-run enterprise, a collaborative partnership of MTSD and Northwest Industrial Resource Center (NWIRC). “This grant will enable us to take our Manufacturing Academy, launched in January 2019, to a higher level by having students work to meet needs of local manufacturers by manufacturing actual products. We have been listening to local manufacturing companies and are committed to meeting the needs of our community,” said Kyle Bucholtz – McDowell Manufacturing Teacher.

In the current Academy, students complete credited courses in topics such as technology, design, engineering, CNC machining, safety, and use of manufacturing equipment and software, including a 5 Axis CNC machine. “The new student-run manufacturing enterprise, known as McDowell Manufacturing, puts the information learned in their coursework to  practical use as students  produce  actual parts, deliver services, and add value as part of the supply chain for local manufacturers,” said NWIRC President, Bob Zaruta. Over the course of an academic school year, students will learn about and  perform different job functions in manufacturing, develop essential life-long skills, utilize advance manufacturing technologies, and build relationships with local companies. At the same time this work readiness is occurring, capacity for local manufacturers is advancing, a short-term solution to job placement is underway, future talent pipeline issues are being addressed, and the next generation of manufacturing business leaders is being cultivated. Initial positions of the student-run enterprise will include Production Manager, Machinists, Business Manager, and Marketing Manager. Through this experience, students will interact with  local manufacturers, understand their  requirements,  key processes and performance metrics for production, quality, and on-time delivery, and help advance manufacturing capa city. Through a collaborative exchange, students will have the opportunity to be mentored, gain expert insight, and develop essential and advanced manufacturing skills. The working relationships established and developed will position the students for future employment opportunities.

Essential for McDowell Manufacturing is the collaborative partnership among MTSD, area manufacturers, and NWIRC. NWIRC is one of seven PA Industrial Resource Centers (IRCs) and is positioned to be the connector between education and industry in this initiative and also lend its manufacturing expertise to McDowell Manufacturing. “Our mission is to respond to the needs of manufacturers in the region to help their businesses grow, and this program responds to their need for building a future talent pipeline. We think it’s a program that can be replicated at other schools throughout the region and NWIRC looks forward to helping that become a reality,” Zaruta said.

Early support for the new student‐run enterprise has been strong. Numerous manufacturers have noted their enthusiasm of McDowell Manufacturing because it will parallel the education that students receive with putting their skills to practical use.  Early supporters include: Matrix Tool, Inc., South Erie Production Company (SEPCO), EFI Connection, South Morgan Technologies, Erie Bronze & Aluminum Co., Eriez Magnetics, Onex, Inc., and Telerob USA, Inc., EFI Connections, Modern Industries and PHB. A strong Advisory Board is one of the key components to linking McDowell Manufacturing to the community. Members of the Advisory Board are Adam Jaroh ‐ Telerob USA, Inc.; Michael Noonan ‐ EFI Connections; Jerry Haas ‐ Haas Automation; Eric Confer ‐ Eriez Manufacturing; Erin McCracken ‐ PHB; Bill Hilbert, Jr., ‐ Reddog Industries, Inc.; Bob Zaruta & Andy Idzik ‐ NWIRC along with Darcie Moseley, Aaron O’Toole, Brian Fuller, and Kyle Bucholtz ‐ MTSD.

Manufacturing is a critical component to local, state, and national economies. The key indicators of local manufacturing according to Penn State Erie, specifically The Behrend College’s ERIE center [economic research institute], is that manufacturing in Erie county contributes 20% to total county GDP whereas in the U.S. overall, manufacturing constitutes 11.7%. The same holds true with employment: manufacturing represents 13.4% of Erie employment compared to 7.2% nationwide.

The proposed McDowell Manufacturing concept was supported by PA Senator Dan Laughlin and Representatives Ryan Bizzarro and Bob Merski, all of whom represent residents of the MTSD. “The skills gap continues to be of concern for most manufacturers in our region. McDowell Manufacturing takes steps to help more students explore skilled trades and engineering careers and, in turn, develop a pipeline for our future local workforce,” Laughlin said. “This program takes ‘training to career’ to a new level by offering a student‐run enterprise for participants to get hands‐on experience with all facets of running a manufacturing business. In addition to this hands‐on experience, McDowell Manufacturing can fill a niche by providing products and services to area manufacturing companies that have current resource limitations.”

Both Representatives Bizzarro and Merski also acknowledged their support of McDowell Manufacturing to help students with an alternative career path, which doesn’t always include college. “I am very excited to support this opportunity that will parallel the education that students will receive, with a student‐run enterprise to put their skills to practical use,” said Bizzarro. Merski added, “We’re pleased about the award of these grant funds, so a program like this can demonstrate success and formally teach other school districts how to incorporate similar programs for enhanced technology education and experience.”

The Training‐to‐Career grant is one of three components of Governor Wolf’s Manufacturing PA Initiative. The grant program provides funding to support the creation of short‐term work readiness programs, with an emphasis on supporting populations facing barriers to employment.

McDowell High School is a public high school of the Millcreek Township School District located in Erie, PA with 2,115 students in grades 9 through 12. They are the 24th largest public high school in Pennsylvania.

NWIRC is one of the seven Industrial Resource Centers (IRCs) in Pennsylvania and serves small and mid‐ sized manufacturers throughout thirteen counties of northwestern Pennsylvania. Their mission is focused on helping manufacturers achieve and sustain top and bottom‐line growth through continuous improvement, advanced manufacturing technologies, customized‐workforce training, skills development programs, and supply chain optimization.