A new pilot program at Stafford Technical Center aims to give engineering students a leg up as they pursue their careers.
In December, 17 students participated in a daylong Lean 101 training conducted by Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center. Lean is a methodology that grew out of the Toyota Motor Corp. in the 1990s that builds on philosophies and practices developed through decades in the Japanese manufacturing industry. The goal of Lean is to apply a set of principles that eliminate waste and increase efficiency within a loop of continuous improvement.
According to Guy Babb, engineering instructor at Stafford, Lean is a significant certification that will give students a competitive advantage when applying for jobs in the manufacturing industry.
“I thought, why can’t we be teaching this to the kids? The philosophy ... can apply to a lot of aspects of life, but particularly manufacturing.”
Babb proposed the idea to his department’s program advisory board, which is comprised of representatives from local manufacturers, including GE Aviation, Omya, Hubbardton Forge and Carris Reels.
“They were all very enthusiastic about us being able to teach our kids this (program) because now when our kids move out of (Stafford) they’ll come prepared to these employers,” Babb said.
Mallory Ezequelle, a longtime advisory board member and process engineer at Omya, agreed.
“The sooner we have these future engineers thinking about how better to do their job, the better we are as an industry,” she said. “It gives us the confidence that they have an understanding of work flow and the need for continuous improvement.”
There is also a financial benefit: Employees who are already Lean certified do not need to undergo training when hired, which saves companies money.
VMEC, which already offers Lean training to companies, agreed to help Babb to develop a version for students. After getting the blessing of the state Agency of Education, Stafford became the first school in the state to offer the certification.
“A potential part of workforce coming up with this kind of experience is a no-brainer,” said Carla Wuthrich, professional manufacturing and business growth adviser at VMEC.
In addition to Babb’s engineering students, students enrolled in Stafford’s power mechanics/welding and culinary arts programs were also given the opportunity to participate in the training.
The cost of the training was $3,500, which Stafford paid for through its program budget.
The 7-hour training, which took place at Stafford on Dec. 19, had students participate in a simulated assembly line in order to apply Lean principles in a hands-on work environment. Initially, the simulation was set up to function inefficiently. After the first trial, students examined the process, discussed what they could do better and redesigned the workspace accordingly. At the end of the day, students had to pass a test to demonstrate comprehension.
Senior Thomas Dunbar, 18, of Poultney, said he enjoyed the real-world scenario. “It’s better learning. … The hands-on experience was really great, and I feel like it really enhanced the experience that we had.”
Dunbar plans to get a mechanical engineering degree after graduating Stafford in the spring. He said he would like to travel some, but could see himself staying in Vermont; however, he admitted it depends on what jobs are available.
Michael Thayer, 18, of Fair Haven, also found value in the training. “It didn’t feel like 7 hours ... because you were involved the whole entire time. ... It made it feel like you were actually in an industry, and you got to see your stats as you progressed.”
Thayer plans to attend Castleton University in the fall for two years before transferring to a technical school, where he wants to pursue a degree in either mechanical or electrical engineering. He, too, would like to stay in Vermont after college, but said he could see himself heading out of state for a better job.
Wherever students go, their Lean certification will go with them, though, Babb admitted he hopes their Lean experience will open some doors locally and convince them to stick around.
Based on the pilot’s success, which Wuthrich credited to the “strong partnership” between VMEC, Stafford, the local manufacturing industry and the Agency of Education, the Lean 101 training is now available to other technical schools and high schools around the state. She noted some have already expressed interest.
She said encouraging students to be ready and excited for jobs in advanced manufacturing benefits schools, industry and the economy in Vermont. “It’s a win-win-win.”