Industry Makes Its Pitch to Students
According to the 2015 Skills Gap Report published by the Manufacturing Institute in partnership with Deloitte, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs likely will need to be filled between 2015 and 2025, yet 2 million were expected to go unfilled because the skills gap. The activities and programs of metalcasting businesses, AFS chapters and groups are striving to narrow the shortage.
“As metalcasters, we have to have a strategy to account for the lack of qualified staff, and right now the main strategy is automation,” said Megan Kirsh, sales and marketing manager for AFS Corporate Member Kirsh Foundry (Beaver Dam, Wisconsin). “It is one leg of a stool, but it can’t be the only fall back. We have to have a strategy to bring people into the industry.”
One of the most successful ways that metalcasters have found to tell students about the industry is through hands-on demonstrations in which youth are given the opportunity to create their own casting. Often called “foundry-in-a-box,” this activity is presented in a number of different ways but generally include making a sand mold, pouring the mold with liquid metal (usually tin) and breaking away the sand after the casting has solidified. Students then have a keepstake to take home to remind them of what they learned. The demonstrations are also supplemented by a short verbal introduction to metalcasting, its importance to the economy, and the careers that can be found in the industry.
Many different types of groups make foundry-in-a-box presentations throughout the country in classrooms, STEM events, and open houses. The strongest network of foundry-in-a-box is the AFS Regional Chapters, which have shared metalcasting with tens of thousands of children since the kit was first developed in 2005.
Many AFS Chapters are dedicated to inspiring the next generation of metalcasters with hands on demonstrations, and the Saginaw Valley Chapter is one of them.
Since October 2013, the chapter has held more than 80 events reaching roughly 32,000 students.
“We do two to three events a month. Mostly schools,” said Brian Smith, Saginaw Valley Chapter member and organizer of the metalcasting demonstration events.
The events produce ecstatic responses from students, parents and teachers.
“Our students loved learning about metalcasting,” said Lauren White, a fourth grade teacher at Havens Elementary, after the Saginaw Valley chapter brought in its metalcasting demonstration in January. “Many students had very little prior knowledge about the topic before the presentation, so they were eager to learn about the metalcasting process. This was such an amazing opportunity to learn something new from experts who live in their own community.”
The Southern California Chapter has been reaching out to high school and college students through an annual casting contest that has been spearheaded faithfully by Bill Gardner (now retired) since 1986. Gardner picks a different pattern every year for the contest.
“Bill is the engine that runs the casting contest,” said James Simonelli, AFS Southern California Chapter Secretary-Treasurer. “This year, he picked a wall-mounted bottle opener as the pattern.”
The competition is held every April, and entries are judged by the entire casting, including the gating and riser system.
“In Southern California, we have a shortage of labor,” Simonelli said. “Our main goal is student outreach so we can create the best foundry workers for the future.”
The goal has been achieved with at least one student. Jason Gutierrez, AFS Southern California Chapter Chair, received a scholarship from the chapter when he entered the contest as a student in 2010. This year, he handed out the same scholarship to another student.
“It’s a bit surreal to be completely honest,” Gutierrez said. “I remember meeting the local industry leaders as an FEF student at Cal Poly Pomona, thinking that it would be great to be a part of that group. Now it really feels like I have come full circle.”
The chapter’s student casting contest is more than a competition with prize money. At its heart, it is an opportunity to put experienced metalcasters in the same room as the next generation.
“It will be up to the next generation of metalcasters to develop and implement new technology and processes,” Gutierrez said. “Without educating our future leaders and metalcasters, we would be doing ourselves a disservice and putting the industry at risk. I’m excited to see what’s next. I want to see where the industry goes as we navigate the ever-changing business climate and how it will be approached by the next generation of leaders.”
The need to attract and inspire a new generation of metalcasters has not been lost on the industry and its supporting associations, like AFS and FEF. Responding to the looming skills gap that threatens to occur as the Baby Boomer generation retires, AFS created Future Leaders of Metalcasting (FLM), which is a program designed to assist in continually developing the next generation of metalcasting leaders. FLM supports and strengthens the network of metalcasting’s next generation of leadership through personal development and outreach. Participants are members of AFS, aged 20-45 who are on or aspire to be on the management track at their organization. Through two meetings per year, members have access to networking events, executive skills training and community outreach. Given the continuous need for leadership development in our dynamic industry, FLM plays an essential role in the sustainability of the industry.
FLM operates with three main platforms: executive development, networking, and student outreach. At every meeting, the group will conduct some form of outreach—typically through a foundry-in-a-box demonstration at a school.
“In the short term, our goal is to give the students exposure to the industry, showing them what it is and that it is a career option,” said Kirsh, who is an FLM officer. “Many high schoolers don’t realize metalcasting is a thing. So we are just putting it on their radar. Long-term, we want to bring a general awareness of the industry to the community, as a whole.”
The student outreach also provides a chance for professional development of the FLM members.
“They can bring a consistent message about their companies and the industry to the general public,” Kirsh said. “It gives them the experience of talking about the industry, so they can gain the skill of advocacy. We have younger members new to leadership roles, and this gives them practice.”
FLM also strives to destigmatize manufacturing and metalcasting—providing candid, fresh perspectives on what their jobs are like, what they do every day, and that good careers are available. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the 12-month period between July 2017 and July 2018, the U.S. added 327,000 manufacturing jobs—the most of any similar period since April 1995.
“Kids can see this as an option and that they can advance in their career from the shop floor,” Kirsh said. “If they have basic character attributes and skills, and a willingness to learn and take on new responsibilities, then the opportunities for advancement are endless.”
Click here to see this story as it appears in the October 2018 issue of Modern Casting