Every now and again I come across an organization that is doing amazing work through their events and trade shows. These organizations are committed to the industry they serve rather than only being committed to turning a profit.
A few months ago I wrote about creating moments of inspiration (hat tip to Andrew Davis for that soundbite). This week I want to share with you a wonderful example I came across of that very idea. This story isn’t just a story about a trade show organizer inspiring their attendees and exhibitors. It’s a story about setting the stage for pay-it-forward inspiration. And once again it takes place in the manufacturing industry.
The manufacturing industry has a problem. This industry cannot find enough qualified workers for the jobs it has available. Manufacturing jobs used to be filled by low-skilled workers who would perform repetitive tasks. Now manufacturing has gone high tech.
That means many of those repetitive tasks have been automated. The low-skilled jobs are going away, but automation has created a plethora of high-skilled jobs. After all, not only does someone have to design and build better machines, but someone also has to maintain and operate those machines. A lot of someones as it turns out.
Manufacturers are so desperate for these higher skilled workers they are helping colleges create two-year programs that prepare students for these new jobs. Some manufacturers are even supplying the equipment they will be trained on to ensure the students can hit the ground running when they are hired.
According to one manufacturer I spoke with, tuition for these programs is typically about $5000-$6000. The starting salary for the jobs they are preparing for is $50,000-$60,000. The demand for workers is so high that many students enrolled in these two-year programs are being hired after only completing their first year.
UBM Canon, who owns the Advanced Manufacturing Trade Show, recognized this need and decided to do something very special about it. Because manufacturing is changing so rapidly, UBM Canon is looking a bit further into the future.
UBM Canon in partnership with Science@OC created STEM Education Day at the Southern California Advanced Manufacturing Trade Show. The idea is to bring in middle school and high school teachers to the show so they can have first-hand knowledge of the high-tech jobs open to their students. The teachers can then better prepare students for those jobs.
Here is what really amazed me and pretty much put me in a great mood for the rest of the week. The project they implemented isn’t just a case of a CSR checkbox being ticked off and then shelved until next year. Everyone involved is committed.
If you are reading this, you are probably involved in trade shows and conferences. You know what exhibiting is like. Companies spend quite a significant amount of money on their presence at a trade show. Exhibitors spend the few days they are at the show focused on sales. Booth staffers have been trained to weed out the tire kickers from the real buyers.
Yet, STEM Education Day unleashed teachers onto the show floor so they could better understand their students’ futures. Every teacher I spoke to said they were welcomed by the exhibitors they talked to on the show floor. As soon as they introduced themselves and said they were part of the STEM Education Day, the exhibitors devoted their attention to them and openly answered all their questions.
Exhibitors showed the teachers their equipment and how it was being used in the manufacturing process. They answered questions about both hard and soft skills students would need for various jobs that manufacturer was looking to fill. Teachers asked about the backgrounds of various people working in the booth. They asked about language skills their students might need. And the teachers said the exhibitors were not just polite but seemed happy to be peppered with all the questions.
Let me repeat. The booth staff at the show didn’t just accommodate the teachers; they welcomed them. And trust me, the teachers knew what a big deal that was. The teachers were well aware they were at the show to sell their products. Perhaps it was the fact they knew that, that it meant even more to them to be treated so well by the exhibitors.
The teachers said that being at the show opened their eyes to all the possibilities for their students’ futures. One teacher told me that she now understands all the opportunities that are out there for her students that may not want to go to college. She now has a better idea of the skills her students need and the alternatives to college where they can get those skills. For all the teachers, their students’ future job opportunities are not a just vague concept but are now very specific.
Those teachers are now back in their classes and are passing that inspiration along to their students. They say that their students are excited because they now have a real-world frame of reference to what they are learning and why they are learning it. They have a better idea of all the paths open to them if they decide to follow their passion.
The program has also inspired the manufacturing companies and individuals at the show. They now have a better understanding of how much help the teachers need if they are to prepare their students for high-tech knowledge jobs and they are giving their time throughout the year to assist teachers.
STEM Education Day was not the solution to the problem. STEM Education Day is the catalyst for an ongoing relationship between educators and manufacturers.
So my hat off to you UBM Canon for recognizing an opportunity to have a real impact on your industry and doing something about it. A bow to you Science@OC for leaping at that opportunity and maximizing its potential throughout the year with the contacts you made there.
And perhaps most of all, a toast to every single teacher who attended and every single manufacturing professional who took the time to talk to them and answer questions. You have embarked on a great mission. You are inspiring future generations.
How is your show creating moments of inspiration? Please share what you are doing and what you’ve seen in the comments below, or give me a call so I can write about you too.