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Seriously, Drop What You’re Doing and Launch this Manufacturing Youth Engagement Program Right Now.

Professional video camera for shooting video
Credit: iStock/Elena Nikonova

A manufacturing youth engagement program that excites local businesses, offers templates and guidance to effectively launch in new regions, has a 10-year track record of connecting hundreds of students annually, and is financially sustainable?

Yes, please.

That’s exactly what Pennsylvania’s What’s So Cool About Manufacturing® program offers. That’s right: during the past 10 years, What’s So Cool has created a process, templates, and materials that simply work, driving new connections between MEP Centers, their local school districts, and their clients. The goal of What’s So Cool is simple: create manufacturing awareness across an entire community through a middle school video competition that spotlights why local manufacturing businesses are cool.

Kids create videos highlighting manufacturers

Over the course of five months, each team of seventh- and eighth-graders partners with a local manufacturer to create a two-minute video outlining why their assigned manufacturer is “cool.” The students are coached by a digital media expert on the basics of storytelling and video production so they can create a compelling vignette.

The community then votes online for the best videos, with an awards event at the end that brings the entire county together to celebrate manufacturing. In watching these videos, parents, students, siblings, educators, and community members all learn about the manufacturing going on in their backyards – and dispel the “dark, dirty, and dangerous” myths that plagues American manufacturing.

Helping build a manufacturing talent pipeline

The students might come to the competition out of curiosity, or simply to develop their video-making skills, but they leave more educated about manufacturing and the great careers it offers – and they’ve successfully enlightened their peers, parents, and teachers, as well.

Along the way, the creator of the program, Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC, part of Pennsylvania MEP), offers help and support to other Pennsylvania organizations that are running What’s So Cool in their regions – all resulting in students and communities that better understand careers available at local manufacturers.

Seeing is believing

The best way to understand What’s So Cool is simply to watch this two-minute video, created by the outstanding student team from Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania, and featuring B. Braun Medical, Inc.:

Lehigh Valley 2023: Lower Macungie (LMMS)
Lehigh Valley 2023: Lower Macungie (LMMS)

The gameshow format they chose is interactive and captures the viewer’s attention. This is the kind of video that middle schoolers want to watch! At the same time, they capture the “why” behind manufacturing: in this case, B. Braun’s medical devices save lives. I love the part where one of the production workers talks about his ability to support local healthcare professionals without having to actually go to medical school!

If you have two more minutes, check out this snazzy video from a team at Northeast Middle School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who was paired with Stanley Black & Decker:

Lehigh Valley 2023: Northeast
Lehigh Valley 2023: Northeast

This video captures two fantastic selling points for manufacturing. The detailed look at robotic welding, laser cutting, coding, and more exciting technologies will thrill many students (and their parents!). The team also outlines numerous high-tech, high-wage career opportunities in manufacturing, with employees sharing how much they love their jobs. The video’s ending – “Wow, these makers really make a difference. What will YOU make?” – could be a rallying cry for our entire manufacturing industry.

This program works – look at the numbers

Beyond the videos, What’s So Cool has the numbers to back up its success statewide. Check out what’s happened the past 10 years:

  • 1,125 student team-made videos, hosted in this video library
  • 77 regional contests
  • 6,000 student participants
  • 602 Pennsylvania manufacturers featured in at least one video
  • 309 participating school districts, which is 60% of the state’s total school districts
  • Representation from 60 of the 67 Pennsylvania counties
  • 4 million votes cast during the public online voting
  • Dozens of opportunities annually for MEP Centers to engage with new manufacturers and strengthen their brand

You can do this – see the toolkit

And did I mention that MRC has made its templates and support available nationally? Its toolkit offers dozens of useful resources. For now, you can sample its one-page summary for schools and companies, the proposed timeline, and even its sponsorship materials. If you want ongoing, in-depth support, your organization should seriously consider contacting MRC to launch What’s So Cool successfully in your region.

Don’t wait. Drop everything right now and reach out to MRC’s karen.buck [at] (subject: From%20NIST-MEP%20blog) (Karen Buck) to express your interest in learning more about What’s So Cool!

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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