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NextFlex Kicks Off Fall 2020 Virtual FlexFactor® Program

by Christina Moore, Workforce Development Manager, NextFlex

We are delighted to be starting our fifth year of FlexFactor in Santa Clara County, Calif., utilizing a virtual platform that continues to provide students with an engagement in education and career pathways that lead to the advanced manufacturing sector. To date, 3,209 K12 students have completed FlexFactor locally, with the support of parents, teachers, industry mentors and community college partners. Our momentum continues to build despite the hardships of the global pandemic, largely due to the resilience and ingenuity of the young people who participate in FlexFactor.

As you may know, FlexFactor was developed as an experiential program, designed to incorporate field trips, mentorship, and team-based learning to spark student interest in STEM-based education and career pathways. The program’s immersive approach is particularly impactful as it connects students with advanced technology and with industry professionals so they can see first-hand how emerging technologies are changing lives and what it’s like to work in the advanced manufacturing sector.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to shift to distance learning, the NextFlex team worked with teachers to adapt FlexFactor for virtual delivery. During the 2020 spring semester virtual pilot, we discovered that the program was just as engaging for students on Zoom as it is in person. By substituting field trips with live panel discussions and virtual tours, the virtual program brings the advanced manufacturing sector to life, connecting students with both advanced technologies and professionals working in the field.

Upon completion of the virtual FlexFactor our survey showed that students became more confident in their ability to solve problems and viewed themselves as successful in the future in the professional world, and a majority of students said they were more interested in a career in technology or advanced manufacturing as a direct result. Additionally, FlexFactor helped overcome issues related to isolation during the local Shelter-in-Place orders which kept everyone at home.

As one instructor who led students through the virtual FlexFactor program earlier this spring explained:

“The virtual FlexFactor project allowed my students to interact with their peers, adults/experts in the field, and to tackle difficult, real world problems they are all facing right now. Keeping themselves occupied and productive while interacting with their peers has helped many of my students who were having a really rough time through this lockdown, as the only feedback they are receiving from the normal school system at the moment are SAT scores, difficult virtual AP exams, and uncertainty with regard to college, all of which only exacerbates their feelings of self-doubt and isolation. This project gave those students hope. I cannot tell you how much that fact alone means to me as their teacher, who is struggling to help these kids as I see them struggle with everything that is going on.”

Recently, NextFlex was recognized by US Representative Ro Khanna (CA-17) for our pivotal role in supporting local teachers and students during the Shelter-in-Place when reliance on distance learning is proving to be so difficult for students, parents and teachers. The recognition was announced last month during NextFlex’s Innovation Days and NextFlex team members were on hand to receive the recognition.

Now, as we head into the fall semester, schools across the country are preparing to launch the virtual version of FlexFactor, and it’s extremely gratifying that we will continue creating positive impact for the K12 community, allowing students to see and experience what a future in the advanced manufacturing sector can look like.