Skills, sports and storytelling: Engaging youth in manufacturing Gnarly, man. It’s hardly a phrase that you would expect to be tied to manufacturing, but thanks to one Canadian, that’s exactly how the millennial generation is learning about the industry in schools across both the United States and Canada.
“It all begins with a story,” says Beamsville, ON resident Jeremy Bout, the creator of the manufacturing industry’s best education tool eduFACTOR, a membership-based virtual library of high impact stories to inspire the next generation. This toolkit equips STEM teachers with real-life stories that make learning concepts relevant to students; tech teachers with turnkey, hands-on Maker Projects and Interactive Labs as well as providing guidance counsellors the necessary tools to make informed decisions about future career pathways.
And with his X Games-style persona, Bout is the perfect storyteller – fuelled by passion and on a personal crusade to change the often misunderstood perception of manufacturing being a dirty, depressing, declining and dangerous industry, not to mention occupation.
One of the most inspirational stories told by Bout is the Metal and Flesh production, specifically the life-changing story of X Games snocross/motocross racer Mike Schultz, who after a tragic race accident in 2008 had part of his right left leg amputated.
A few months later, Schultz discovered that the games had an adaptive version –for amputees – and he took a FOX shock and started working on a prosthesis that would enable him to ride his machines and to compete once again.
“That was the catalyst, it really got me going,” Shultz explains in the video. “I need to design something. I need to be out there with those guys.” Many prototypes later, he devised a linkage system and went to the shop to manufacture what in essence would become the life-changing Moto Knee and the start of his company Biodapt Inc.
Like with any great story, Shultz didn’t couldn’t keep it to himself. He sent demo versions of his Moto Knee to a few people for product testing, including Keith Deutsch, an avid snowboarder before he lost his right leg, above the knee, in a bomb attack in Iraq.
“I got him all strapped in and when we got down to the bottom of the run and he looks over and gives me the biggest high-five,” Schulz explains. “Dude this thing is awesome, I haven’t boarded like this since I had two good legs.”
It’s an inspirational story about making a difference, but as they storyteller himself explains, it’s a manufacturing success story. “Mike through manufacturing, is touching lives,” says Bout. “It’s a great example of how manufacturing redefines what’s possible, and we see this all round us all the time. It’s a very exciting world to be a part of.”
Bout’s own story entering the “exciting world” of manufacturing is an all-too-familiar narrative.
“The industry has struggled to get people to come through the door,” he says. “I was just a young man that fell into the industry, myself.”
Struggling to find a career path, he entered his uncle’s garage workshop in Orangeville, ON and embarked on a manufacturing tooling career that would lead him to help design and market private label cutting tools for a Buffalo-based manufacturing firm that are now used by thousands of companies around North America.
Bout had no idea what he was getting into when he entered his uncle’s workshop. He simply made the best of an opportunity. What started as a summer job blossomed into a 10-year long career in manufacturing.
Along the way, Bout started to dabble in marketing and design work to help drive sales of the custom tools that he’d been designing. As his passion for that creative work grew, he realized this was all part of a larger need that was facing the industry that had helped him find his way.
No one was telling the story of manufacturers. “I realized that I had a unique skill set to allow me to do something about the lack of students becoming interested in manufacturing,” says Bout, who grew up in a musical family that spent time in production studios making recordings. A career in manufacturing afforded Bout the means to assemble a new media production studio. As more and more of his time became devoted to the creative side of marketing the tooling solutions he was building, Bout started seeing his creative experiences in a new light. “I knew I’d be unique to telling these stories because I was telling my story,” Bout says.
Edge Factor’s production and story-telling quality attracted the attention of educators, early on. Manufacturing programs finally had access to the type of materials that demonstrate the possibilities a career in industry holds. “I had educators coming to us saying ‘this is really making our industry look hot,’” Bout says.
Armed with a range of productions shot between 2010 and 2014, edufactor.org, a Netflix-like platform for educational resources, targeted directly at the manufacturing industry, was launched. Through key partnerships with the likes of Sandvik Coromant, Haas Automation and the Gene Haas Foundation, as well as Mastercam and a grant program with Purdue University, eduFACTOR has become a sought after platform by manufacturing educators, especially south of the border.
Combining impeccable storytelling, with big budget video production cinematic production values to tell the stories of the people and careers that are possible in manufacturing, the platform incorporates advanced manufacturing projects to provide a complete package. “If we tell stories about things that people are passionate about, the stories will resonate with students and their parents,” Bout says.
The addition of 3D printing and CNC machining lesson plans round out a package that drives value for the industry, for the educational programs that teach manufacturing and for the secondary educator who is lost for a resource to demonstrate the infinite potential the skills of a manufacturers provides.
“eduFACTOR is a complete educational package,” says Jeff Brownlee, vice president of public affairs at Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters. “Jeremy is brilliant at making the connection between manufacturing and everyday life and demonstrating that manufacturing can be fun and exciting. It’s a great tool for educators and business leaders to engage the next generation.”
Brownlee adds that CME’s members identify skills as one of the biggest challenges to their future success and that’s being amplified by the lack of young people opting for a career in manufacturing. “Manufacturing has an image problem and we’ve tried many different ways to reach not just the students, but teachers and parents as well, to show them a career in manufacturing is high tech, high paying, high value and highly skilled,” he says. “What eduFactor brings to the table is what no one has been able to do- not just a way to connect and portray the true image of manufacturing, but an opportunity to get hands-on experience.”
And that’s why CME is partnering with eduFactor to gift 200 secondary schools across Canada free access to the e-learning tools for one full year. “This is a great initiative and partnership,” Brownlee explains. “By giving educators a turnkey solution to introduce manufacturing into their classroom, it’s filling a huge void and hopefully, getting more people engaged in the industry.”
And hopefully there will be many new stories to tell in the future. “Jeremy’s right. Everything begins with a good story and I believe that this partnership is just the beginning of a game-changing story for manufacturing that will be told from Newfoundland to British Columbia,” Brownlee explains. “And I hope that story is gnarly, man.”