Macomb County Students participate in Manufacturing Day 2018.

Michigan manufacturers are experiencing a serious workforce shortage, but local Manufacturing Day events are aiming to close that gap by bringing students into manufacturing workplaces for a hands-on experience.

Manufacturing Day, also known as MFG Day, is a national movement launched in 2012 by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International. It encourages the nation’s manufacturers to open their doors to high school students for a day, introducing them to what a career in manufacturing entails and hopefully piquing their interest.

In 2014 Macomb County became one of the first counties to launch a coordinated MFG Day effort, directly connecting local companies with high schools. The challenges of the manufacturing workforce gap are especially being felt here in Michigan’s mobility hub.

“The current workforce is on the brink of retiring and there are not enough people behind them to fill their shoes,” says Maria Zardis, program director for the Business Outreach and Communications Group at Macomb County’s Department of Planning and Economic Development. “… Manufacturing is so important to our state’s economy. We have to do something to help them fill their openings.”

Zardis says the county asked manufacturing companies what was creating the shortage and they cited a lack of interest among young people in the jobs they had to offer.

“The average age of a worker is 55,” Zardis says. “These employers are too important and these jobs are too good to pass up. We decided to proactively approach Manufacturing Day and make it a county-wide effort.”

Following a few successful years, Macomb received a grant to help Oakland and Wayne counties set up their own MFG Days, beginning in 2017. Now all three counties are coordinating their own MFG Day events, introducing metro Detroit students to potential future employers.

This year’s MFG Day is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 4. Events are planned in communities across the region, from Auburn Hills to Livonia, Detroit to Shelby Township.

In Macomb, Zardis hopes to recruit 70 companies to host MFG Day events. The county has approximately 50 companies on board so far.

“We’re currently looking for host sites,” she says. “Help us help you inspire the next- generation workforce.”

Each experience is different for the groups of students, depending on the company to which they’re connected, but there are overarching similarities.

Students will receive a 90-minute tour of the company they visit, seeing firsthand what it’s like to work there. They’ll learn what the company does and what career advancement opportunities exist. Zardis says organizers are encouraging host sites to be as interactive as they can, allowing students hands-on experience with tools and equipment when possible.

“We’re looking for kids that like to take things apart and put them back together again, kids that like to work with their hands,” she says. “We’re also working with counselors to find kids that haven’t decided their career paths.”

Macomb County is introducing a creative take on a classic piece of Americana to add some fun to this year’s MFG Day. The county will give students career trading cards, akin to baseball cards. Each trading card highlights a different career path in manufacturing, with “stats” on the back of the card including a career’s average wage and what educational pathways are required to get there.

It’s an inspired way to reach the students. By introducing them to career opportunities and placing them directly inside modern manufacturing facilities, organizers and employers hope that students lose any negative perceptions of manufacturing and see the promising future that a manufacturing career offers.

“These are not the dark and dangerous factories our grandparents worked in,” Zardis says. “These are interesting, high-paying jobs.”