He cites what Google did in taking an ugly high-tech building and turning it into the highly vaunted Googleplex. “We now have to cater to a workforce that will work longer, more flexible hours but are looking for an experience at work that their parents and grandparents didn’t expect,” he adds. They want better dining options, places to exercise and to read and transportation incentives.
However, tell that to a hard-core manufacturing guy like Toth. “Some students came through here and asked, ‘Where’s your game room?’” he recalls with an air of obvious disbelief. The notions of flextime and onsite day care are equally beyond the pale in his view. “We have $500,000 machines,” he explains. “If somebody doesn’t come in, you still have to produce a certain number of parts to make payroll. We have to have structure. We can’t have kids running around. It’s a lot more rigid a system” than young people may think.
To fill the vacuum, manufacturers are relying on a potpourri of devices. Many encourage visits from high schoolers and even middle schoolers to try to capture their imagination about making things that help others. Teachers also are targets because they need to be reminded of the value of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educations. Getting through to high school counselors about the choices that students face—whether to incur the debt of going to a four-year university or to take more practical work-oriented routes—is also key.
Many manufacturers reach out to community colleges and work with them to shape their curricula so that students obtain skills that are immediately valuable. In some cases, companies donate equipment to community colleges and send executives or employees to teach classes or to mentor promising students.
CEOs say it’s increasingly important that students at community colleges learn certain skills sets and then take a test to prove their mastery of that subject. They are issued a credential for a course of, say, eight to 10 weeks. That way, even if they don’t graduate, they can demonstrate that they have specific credentials. Many companies also offer summer internships and apprentice programs for new employees that mimic Germany’s famous apprenticeship programs.