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Accelerating the STEM Talent Pipeline for Advanced Manufacturing: A Collaborative Approach

The Boeing Company and NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, are collaborating to tackle one of the most critical defense-related challenges facing the United States: advancing US leadership in innovation and manufacturing through the development of a skilled and capable workforce. Many acknowledge that a looming workforce shortage is challenging companies across the nation, especially those focused on Industry 4.0 and emerging technologies. Fortunately, the work of mobilizing a diverse and agile STEM talent pipeline is directly in line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s goals for creating opportunity and equity for diverse people across the nation, while simultaneously bolstering American innovation and manufacturing. Thus, it’s a good time to be focused on the next generation workforce.

Boeing, NextFlex, and other collaborators are working together in four key aerospace and defense regions across the nation. The goal is to implement outreach and recruitment programs designed to connect diverse and under-served youth, as well as veterans and transitioning service members, with education and career opportunities in advanced manufacturing fields. Working with community colleges in South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama and California, Boeing and NextFlex are implementing unique and interactive programs that focus on new and innovative methods to recruit and train talent for careers that are evolving at the speed of technology. Expanding on successful iterations of these programs in the Huntsville-Decatur area in Alabama where the program was launched in 2020, the new locations were selected based upon Boeing’s need to fill the talent pipeline in areas of the country where they have significant operations.

“It takes a committed and collaborative group of many to cultivate our future STEM leaders, and Boeing recognizes the value of working with organizations like NextFlex, as well as our local community colleges, to make that possible. When we come together, we can inspire and uplift our local talent – especially students of color and females – to pursue fulfilling careers that change the world,” said Kristie Hernández, Senior Government & Community Relations Specialist for The Boeing Company.

NextFlex education programs immerse students and educators representing K-12 and higher education, as well as members of the National Guard, transitioning service members, veterans, and military dependents, into the world of advanced manufacturing. In response to COVID-19’s disruption to traditional classroom learning, programs have been adapted to accommodate both virtual and hybrid delivery, allowing Boeing and local education partners to continue their critical work of engaging diverse populations with advanced manufacturing opportunities. Using a scalable approach that will engage thousands of students across the nation in the coming years, these expanded programs will help create the skilled and available workforce needed to support a robust and resilient industrial sector.

“At NextFlex, we recognize that we can’t build innovation ecosystems around advanced technologies without also developing a deep and diverse talent pipeline that will drive new manufacturing capabilities,” said Emily McGrath, Director of Workforce Development, Education and Training for NextFlex. “Through our work with Boeing we are expanding the type of learning programs that introduce opportunities in advanced manufacturing in meaningful ways to new populations. By driving awareness, interest, and engagement across the full spectrum of talented young and transitioning Americans, we are building a skilled workforce that will ensure economic strength and national security through a vibrant advanced manufacturing sector.”

Two participating Community Colleges in Southern California, El Camino College in Torrance, CA, and Cypress College in Cypress, CA, have introduced the FlexFactor® program through local schools and are already seeing an impact. Jose Anaya, Dean of Community Advancement at El Camino College said, “El Camino College is proud to be working with NextFlex’s FlexFactor program.  FlexFactor is an innovative program that inspires our high school students to explore technology, learn about industry and prepare for career pathways. The reviews from students are great and teachers want to proliferate this program across more of their high school classes!”

Henry Hua, Dean of Business and CIS at Cypress College said, “With vast changes in manufacturing growing out of technological advances in productivity, NextFlex’s FlexFactor program, delivered in partnership with Cypress College, has given our students a head start in an ever-growing Technology Manufacturing space.  This partnership has allowed students to think about new manufacturing techniques that leap them ahead toward careers, innovation, and solutions thinking.  With the partnership of Cypress College and NextFlex, we are exposing our students to next generation skills and the ability to adapt to global competitiveness for centuries to come.”

Through this unique collaboration of vested stakeholders, NextFlex outreach and awareness programs are transforming lives, awakening new and diverse groups of people to the possibility of high tech, high wage jobs in a vibrant industry that needs them as manufacturing sectors across the US evolve. A prepared workforce is essential to building strong manufacturing ecosystems in communities across the country, and, so far, successful partnerships forged with motivated companies such as Boeing are proving to be impactful. For more information about NextFlex’s workforce development programs, visit nextflex.us/learning-programs.

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