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Another Winning Educational Approach for Advanced Manufacturing

By Emily McGrath, Deputy Director of Workforce Development at NextFlex

NextFlex launched a Learn & Earn apprenticeship program designed to provide students enrolled in higher education with a work-based learning experience in advanced manufacturing. The Learn & Earn program was originally piloted with NextFlex member Lorain County Community College in Northeast Ohio as part of NextFlex Project Call 2.0. After the success demonstrated in Ohio, a second program was piloted in Santa Clara County in the NextFlex Technology Hub. The first students to participate are from San Jose City College’s (SJCC) Laser Technology Program, with plans to expand with SJCC and others in the area.

The Learn & Earn method is beneficial to employers, colleges, and universities, and the student-employees themselves. This innovative approach to education is based on the idea of supplementing traditional classroom instruction with work experience. The program leverages industry partnerships to co-create the future workforce, ensuring graduates have the knowledge, skills, and work experience necessary for a wide variety of manufacturing enterprise activities. Additionally, companies can reduce risk by engaging with potential employees in an experimental and cost-effective way.

NextFlex WorkForce Development Learn and Earn

Learn and Earn interns from San Jose City College put their new-found skills to work in the NextFlex Technology Hub.

The Learn & Earn program’s ability to integrate professional world experiences with higher education provides multiple benefits to student interns. Students divide their week between class time and work, earning both school credit and pay. This approach provides students with the chance to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world problems while learning practical skills that are not typically a part of traditional higher learning. This hands-on experience gives students the chance to test drive their chosen profession and ensure they enjoy working in the field, not just studying it. Additionally, interns improve soft skills along with their technical knowledge, positioning them for well-rounded success in the professional world post-graduation.

As Samu Schweta, a San Jose City College Laser Technology student participating in the pilot cohort explained:

Working as a Learn & Earn intern has given me valuable perspective into the workflows, technologies, and processes involved in the flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing industry. This was an exceptional opportunity, to be part of cutting-edge technology and gain not just general experience, but expertise in characterization techniques that adds valuable credentials to my work experience and enhances my competitiveness. The chance to apply what I learned in the classroom to an actual job has taught me a lot about what it takes to survive and eventually be successful in the professional world. Additionally, this is a great platform to interact with and learn from people working in my field.

Not only do students benefit, employers see advantages as well. The program’s structured approach to aligning industry and education gives employers a reduced-risk opportunity to provide practical training and skills to potential full-time hires. Additionally, the perspective that interns bring to the table often proves very useful as Dr. Christine Ho, CEO and co-founder of Imprint Energy, explained, “The fresh perspective that interns bring to our team is incredibly valuable. Our company is currently scaling the manufacturing capacity of our flexible printed batteries, and one of our interns reduced a large dataset and identified a process variability problem that was causing production ramp issues for us.”

The dynamic nature of technology research, development, and production means that it is difficult to keep educational content current. This hybrid method of learning engages employers and faculty members, facilitating the creation of employer-facing and industry-informed educational content. By providing a way for employers to take an active role in talent creation, the program ensures that students graduate with up-to-date knowledge of the technology and processes used in industry.

This blended approach to education results in informed and inspired college graduates who have acquired both education and work experience by the time they transition to full-time employment. Ultimately, schools, companies, and other stakeholders do what they each are designed to do, but in mutually beneficial, collaborative, and purposeful ways.

Through the Learn & Earn program’s strategic and structured approach to talent creation, NextFlex and its partners are creating a new generation of innovators and leaders who are poised for success in the in multi-disciplinary design and manufacturing environments of the future.

If you are interested in hosting a Learn & Earn intern at your company, please reach out to Director of Workforce, Education, and Training Brynt Parmeter.