Guest Column

AMP Lab offers options for students

September 14, 2018
| By Jon DeWys |
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On Sept. 19, an amazing collaboration between Grand Rapids Community College, Western Michigan University, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Talent2025 will begin to take place in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. A kickoff celebration and grand opening of the AMP (Advanced Manufacturing Partnership) Lab is being held at Western Michigan University’s downtown regional location.

Why is such a collaboration important?

Today, while many students are graduating from high school and planning for their future, they think the answer needs to be college and a degree program. The problem is that young adults are not being exposed enough to career options beyond college, they are looking at careers they see on a website that look like engaging careers.

West Michigan manufacturers are desperately seeking young adults to fill the career ladders of those employees retiring over the coming years.

This collaboration offers an insight to young students, allowing an opportunity to work with a manufacturing employer and earn education instruction, which gives them exposure to careers in manufacturing. In addition, this offers experience and might help create opportunities as a manufacturing specialist, operating a $1-million piece of machinery, to a degreed manufacturing or industrial engineer, figuring out how to best optimize a process for a contract that was awarded to a West Michigan employer.

A high school degree is not necessarily enough to land a high-paying career, but many times it DOES NOT require a four-year degree. The AMP Lab will allow a student the flexibility to earn a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree based on his or her own personal desire and passion to secure a career. This collaboration will allow this to occur.

West Michigan was built on manufacturing over a century ago and will continue to play a key role in our local economy with many job and career possibilities.

Many individuals believe manufacturing environments are dirty and dingy places to work. That was true in decades past, but many manufacturing facilities today are clean enough you could eat off the ground.

The AMP Lab offers a glimpse into a modern factory, which will allow the community to experience and process what this looks like.

West Michigan is unique when compared with the rest of the state, or even the country, when it comes to employers and educators. They are actively collaborating and developing solutions regarding workforce development finding answers and solutions to workforce needs. Hundreds to thousands of jobs continue to open monthly in our West Michigan community from manufacturers looking for future employees to do everything from operating a high-tech machine to engineering. These organizations do not operate in competitive “silos” but, instead, are opening their doors and resources to bring wide-scale solutions to future workforce needs.

Manufacturing philanthropists, as I refer to them, are not only talking about the importance of partnerships but putting money where their mouths are and assisting the educational community to finance various pieces of equipment from three-dimensional printers to CNC machining centers and everything in between. I would like to thank these individuals for giving back to our community and investing their own personal resources into these programs and partnerships. If it were not for these great thought-leaders, it would be very difficult for these partnerships to exist. Those people know whom I am talking about, and I want to thank each one of them for making a difference.

Companies, like DeWys Manufacturing, have launched their own in-house workforce development programs (DeWys University) to work alongside these partnerships to enhance efforts to attract, train and retain their workforce. As the AMP Lab is established, DeWys University will align programs with the AMP Lab’s programs for a best-in-breed synergistic partnership.  

A collaborative spirit that has been occurring in our community is like a funky math problem, where 1+1+1+1+1=10. Each number can stand for an education institution (K-12, college, university), a workforce development agency, talent organization, employer, individual contributors, etc. When putting them together, the sum of working together is 100 times greater than each piece working on its own. That is what is happening with the WMU/GRCC AMP partnership.

Discover Manufacturing is another example of an amazing collaboration making huge strides in our community. Key pillars of MiCareer Quest, hosted in May, and Manufacturing Day, hosted throughout the month of October, bring K-12 students and manufacturers together, exposing young people and teachers to career opportunities in manufacturing. Students can see firsthand how products are being designed, engineered and produced in a manufacturing environment.

Our next generation workforce needs to see relevancy from who they are, to what they want to do and who they want to be. They want to make a difference, and they want to know how they can participate in finding a solution to real-world problems or opportunities. The AMP Lab will offer a “hands-on” approach for students, as opposed to sitting in classes all day tearing their eyes out asking themselves, “What the heck am I doing here, going in debt for something I am not sure I really want to do?”

Jon DeWys is CEO of DeWys Manufacturing located in Marne. He is a member of the Right Place/MMTC-West Manufacturers Council and is chair of Discover Manufacturing, a regional network of hundreds of manufacturers who are committed to addressing the short- and long-term talent needs of West Michigan’s manufacturing industry.

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