Norfolk Junior High Students use 3D printers, other manufacturing equipment (copy)

Norfolk Junior High students use the school’s new “Creation Station,” which includes 3-D printers, CNC machines, vinyl cutters, a laser engraver and an embroidery machine. The room is sponsored by Nucor Detailing Center after the company received the Developing Youth Talent Initiative grant from the state.

Modern manufacturing has a remarkable production capability through connections linking software and sophisticated output devices. Among the items that recently resulted at one Nebraska site: model cars, a door stop, miniature American flags, lanyards and telephone stands.

Those items weren’t created in a production plant, though. They were made by students in a middle school. Seventh- and eighth-graders at Norfolk Junior High produced those creations using 3D printers, CNC machines, vinyl cutters, a laser engraver and an embroidery machine.

Those students are becoming comfortable, at a young age, with devices and processes at the heart of 21st-century manufacturing. The experience can help interested students enter the manufacturing workforce down the road — one of Nebraska key economic needs.

If Nebraska’s manufacturing sector could fill all its needed positions, it could grow by 10%, says Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Nationally, an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing positions will be unfilled over the next decade.

To help prepare the workforce for coming demands, Gov. Pete Ricketts proposed, and the Nebraska Legislature approved, the Developing Youth Talent Initiative. The program allocates grants to private companies and consortiums for educational outreach to students on modern workforce needs. Since 2015, the program has reached more than 7,000 students and 23 school districts.

It’s fitting that Norfolk Junior High School is one of the schools participating, given the strong manufacturing presence in Norfolk through the Nucor steel facility, known for its innovation in a highly competitive global market. The local sponsor of the school’s grant is Nucor Detailing Center, which produces a range of steel construction products using advanced software.

A Scottsbluff school participating in the statewide initiative is Bluffs Middle School, where Anne Schmall teaches robotics and drafting. Students are “starting to realize that there’s other jobs out there,” Schmall told The World-Herald’s Aaron Hegarty. “If you really like that hands-on stuff, where you get to build and move and do, there’s obviously really amazing careers out there that they can go in to.”

This initiative is one of several important efforts to nurture a skilled workforce for Nebraska’s future. Some additional efforts:

» German-style apprenticeships. Two German companies with American headquarters in Nebraska — CLAAS of America and Graepel North America — are the first to sign up for this new initiative. Through the three-year apprenticeship program, youths will work and earn on the job while also receiving training through Metropolitan Community College.

» The reVISION program, in which school systems, companies and the Nebraska Department of Education work together to match instructional programs with local business needs.

» The Career Dream Team Ambassador program, in which young Nebraska adults starting out in science, math or technology fields provide outreach to students.

These outreach efforts are commendable, preparing young people for successful careers and Nebraska for a stronger economy.

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