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NextFlex News – May 2022

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

On Friday, April 29, we had the amazing opportunity to hold a Roundtable discussion with industry, academia, and government to highlight the strategies and investments needed to yield the greatest impact on diversifying and expanding the US talent pipeline. Participants provided insights on how mutually supportive partnerships around the country are giving young people not only a glimpse into what a future career in modern manufacturing might look like, but also a view into the education pathways that will help them get there. You can watch the recording of the Roundtable by clicking here.

Hosted by Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, the event highlighted successful industry and academic partnerships that serve the local needs of the manufacturing ecosystem as well as the local community. I (left) was able to welcome attendees of the Roundtable and make the case for increased investment and support for programs that get young people interested in careers in the advanced manufacturing sector.

To the delight of everyone in attendance, Leanne Caret (at right), EVP and Senior Advisor at The Boeing Company, announced a $1.1M grant for NextFlex to expand FlexFactor®, NextFlex’s project-based entrepreneurship learning program, to nine new geographic areas: Albuquerque, N.M.; Montgomery, Ala.; the Capital Region of Virginia; Washington D.C.; Norfolk, Va.; Houston, Texas; Phoenix, Ariz.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Philadelphia, Pa. This is the second such grant that Boeing has provided to NextFlex, where successful FlexFactor implementations were launched in Alabama, California, Louisiana, and South Carolina in 2020 and 2021. When announcing the grant, Ms. Caret cited FlexFactor’s success in providing opportunities for youth that support diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Another VIP guest, Dr. Jag Pamulapati, Deputy Director, Research, Technology and Laboratories (Acting) for the Department of Defense, lauded the grant and the impact that project-based learning programs like FlexFactor are having across the country. Several of the other manufacturing innovation institutes have adopted the FlexFactor framework and have adapted the program to feature student challenges related to their specific technology focus. This is the kind of exponential impact that we are looking for as we look to onshore and re-shore manufacturing in the US.

Several FlexFactor teams from area high schools, including Marion L. Steele High School, Amherst, OH; Elyria High School, Elyria, OH, and Olmsted Falls High School, Olmsted Falls, OH, presented their winning FlexFactor technology product concepts to the audience, including US Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, who spoke with the students about a national need for a trained and ready workforce to support US manufacturing, stating that manufacturing is the engine of the American economy, as it drives prosperity, national security, and public health. He said that he is optimistic about the future, especially given the level of engagement shown by the high school students in attendance at the event. Later in the program the Secretary encouraged the students to pursue STEM education pathways that lead to exciting careers in high tech fields.

The Roundtable discussion highlighted the need for a strategic and sustained investment in Participants in the Roundtable, facilitated by Ms. Courtney Power (far left), Deputy Director of Workforce Development, included from left to right: Mr. Zachary Kiehl, CEO and Cofounder, Sentinel; Ms. Leanne Caret, EVP and Senior Advisor, The Boeing Company; The Honorable Martin J. Walsh, US Secretary of Labor; Dr. Marcia Ballinger, President, LCCC; Dr. Henry Cialone, CEO, EWI, and Dr. Tracy Albers, President and CEO, rapid prototype + manufacturing llc. With representation from government, academia, and industry, a consistent message shared by all panelists was the need to move from siloed to collaborative efforts.  The myriad challenges of workforce development will require braided efforts to ensure exposure, preparation, mentorship, and training of the next generation of talent.  Panelists spoke on the need to deepen and diversify the STEM talent pipeline through intentional efforts to provide an inclusive recruiting experience as well as providing work-based learning opportunities to those students who might otherwise not consider a STEM career. In a final call to action, panelists encouraged those in attendance to support the Bipartisan Innovation Act, work collaboratively with other stakeholders in the space, and to say “yes” to paying it forward to support today’s students, tomorrow’s talent.

The Workforce Development Roundtable concluded with tours of the LCCC Center for Ideation and Invention. From all of us at NextFlex, we would like to thank Dr. Ballinger, Tracy Green, and Terri Burgess Sandu of LCCC for their generous hospitality and support, without whom this important discussion would not have come to life. We also thank Secretary Walsh and Dr. Pamulapati for attending and their words of encouragement to all, but particularly to the students. Next, we would like to thank the industry panelists for helping to shine a light on the importance of education and workforce development to the US economy. Finally, we thank Boeing for their generous support of our workforce development programs around the country.

We look forward to more excellent collaborations in the future.


Malcolm J. Thompson, PhD.
Executive Director