By CORTNEY ERNDT
Capital News Service
LANSING – A proposal to lower Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) requirements for vocational training students may boost manufacturing careers, some legislators said.
Students who successfully complete one year of vocational training would be able to avoid the mandatory algebra II credit, a credit of science, one credit of the arts, and the online/learning experience requirement.
Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, said, “I really feel that we need to make sure those who have an interest in a vocational skill have an opportunity to learn those skills without being penalized.”
An approved career program with math content, such as electronics, machining, construction, welding, engineering or renewable energy would fulfill the requirements.
Johnson said, “I think we’ve missed the boat somewhat with our high school students, where we’ve said each student has to be prepared for a university education.”
To graduate, the MMC requires four credits in math, three in science, four in English language arts, three in social studies, one in physical education and health, one in performing and applied arts, and an online/learning experience course.
Jon DeWys, president of DeWys Manufacturing in Marne, said, “Those are all great things for college bound students.”
DeWys Manufacturing, is a provider of precision sheet metal components, powder coatings, stampings and other products.
Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said Grand Rapids has many career opportunities for students interested in advanced manufacturing.
Brinks said, “I want to be careful that if we do change the MCC, we are doing it in a very thoughtful way. I do understand that it might be helpful to have some flexibility.”
DeWys said existing requirements give students less time to leave their high school building to attend a career tech center program that provides career-oriented training.
“In manufacturing, that’s our big dilemma. How do we give an alternative to these kids that are not college bound?” DeWys said.
DeWys said his company brings in Boy Scouts each month to spark interest and teach basic manufacturing skills.
“Businesses need to get really involved with the K-12 system,” DeWys said.
Many students are not exposed to manufacturing and, therefore, are unaware of the opportunities, DeWys said.
“Manufacturing companies are perceived as dirty. There’s a ton of small manufacturers out there that are very well run, paying good wages and benefits. They’re kind of kept a secret,” he said.
MMC is designed to prepare students for success in college, but manufacturers say the curriculum deters students from training with machines and tools.
“Universities sound prestigious, but not everyone is wired to go to a four-year university,” DeWys said, some students are “good with their hands: they’re very mechanical, they’re very good problem solvers, they can look at something and come up with a solution.”
However, most students aren’t exposed to vocational training due to core curriculum requirements, leaving companies with a shrinking pool of skilled employees, DeWys said.
“Our growth has been hammered because of the lack of a skilled workforce,” DeWys said.
Some high schools are partnering with companies to expose students to potential career paths.
For example, Coopersville High School provides a Manufacturing Engineering Partnership Program (MEPP) which enables juniors and seniors to job shadow and intern with companies like DeWys Manufacturing, Precision Aerospace Corp. in Grand Rapids and Ada Automotive Repair in Ada, among others.
MEPP reported 2 million manufacturing jobs are currently open nationally because employers can’t find workers with advanced skills. There are currently 2.7 million manufacturing workers over the age of 55, and their retirements will create an even higher demand for skilled workers over the next 10 years, it said.
Many high schools, such as Kenowa Hills, are eliminating vocational training due to lack of funding for machinery and tools.
DeWys said, “If manufacturing is not seen as a viable career, why would someone vote ‘yes’ for a bond request? The state has got to be behind it. If they’re cutting money, they’re sending the wrong message.”
The “dirty” connotation around manufacturing leaves the public unenthused about vocational training, DeWys said.
The Michigan Community College Association is providing a New Jobs Training Program, designed as an economic development project to allow community colleges to provide free training for employers that create new jobs or expand operations.
For example, Autocam Corp. in Kentwood is working with Grand Rapids Community College to train workers in manufacturing fuel systems, steering systems, electric motors, braking systems and medical devices.
Jim Wojczynski, Autocam’s human resource manager, said, “Once we have those people, we don’t want to lose them because they are skilled and trained in what we do.”
The bill was introduced by Reps. Johnson, McBroom, Pettalia, Lori, Goike, Outman, Bumstead, Graves, Foster, Glardon, Kivela, Daley, Kelly, Nesbitt, Leonard and Potvin and referred to the Committee on Education.
By CORTNEY ERNDT