Federal programs that pump money into science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM education — do not guarantee a solid return on investment, said University of Illinois workforce expert Andrew Weaver.
Manufacturing companies absolutely need applicants with improved math and reading skills, Weaver’s research shows. But just as much, the current manufacturing climate demands “ongoing and constant feedback and communications” between individual employers and educators, Weaver said.
Minnesota has set up a flexible matching fund to encourage private largesse in manufacturing skills training. Minnesota’s $7 million-a-year leveraged equipment program lets schools apply for cash grants based on the value of private donations they receive.
In one notable example, Hennepin Tech used the value of hail-damaged Fords donated to its auto body and mechanical repair program to leverage nearly $117,000 in state money to buy a new supermarket refrigeration system to teach heating, ventilation and air conditioning students.
Also, Minneapolis-based Graco, a publicly traded, multibillion-dollar, multinational manufacturer, assigns “college captains” to colleges and technical schools and provides scholarships through its charitable foundation to get qualified applicants.