Hey, Kid: Want to Build Cars When You Grow Up? Another Push for Manufacturing Skills

Honda is best known as a car maker, but it is also doing some interesting things to drive the American economy in the right direction, as we've been reporting lately. 

A case in point: Honda recently announced a new, $1 million investment in Ohio-based workforce development for an innovative program called EPIC, which will focus on creating more interest in manufacturing careers and bolstering education and training for the high-tech manufacturing jobs of the future.

Before saying more about this grant, let's just pause to note the irony: A Japanese car company that famously helped bury Detroit, once the core of American industrial know-how, wants to revive the kind of skilled U.S. workforce that ended up with pink slips in an earlier era as foreign cars filled the roads. 

Of course, there's a reason this actually makes sense: Most of the cars made by Honda are now manufactured in the United States. Honda has gone from being the invading importer, trouncing U.S. workers, to being reliant on this very workforce. And, like so many other manufacturing companies, it's going nuts because it can't find enough skilled workers to run the increasingly complex machines used to build cars like the Accord and Civic. 

We see this motivation for corporate philanthropy every day, especially when it comes to workforce development and education. Employers of all kinds are desperate to bolster America's human capital because they pay the price for U.S. shortcomings on this front. 

EPIC is an acronym that summarizes the mission and focus of the new workforce development program, which is meant to:   

  • create Enthusiasm about manufacturing among middle school students;
  • encourage Passion among high school students to harness the power of technology;
  • promote Innovative instruction at two-year colleges; and
  • continue its Commitment to further educational opportunities for Honda associates.

Got that? Good, because there's a quiz at the end.

Seriously, though, all of these are important facets to address, since research indicates that there will be an increasing need for manufacturing jobs over the next decade. A recent estimate by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute put the number at 3.4 million for new manufacturing jobs that will need trained workers.

That won't be easy to accomplish, given that many young people in the U.S. don't think of manufacturing as an appealing career path or grasp how well these jobs can pay. Going to a work at a car plant is not really part of today's version of the American dream, when every kid hears instead that only a four-year college degree will get them places. 

It's no wonder that Honda wants to get to kids early with a different vision of the future, when they're still in middle school. 

Honda has supported youth education with a specific focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and the environment.

This new, larger investment appears to be a way that Honda is further developing its business and community partnerships with the idea that the EPIC program could be replicated in other regions of the country.

And what is one of the big innovations of this new program? Why, video games, of course! Now more than ever, video games are being recognized for their educational value, and Honda will be capitalizing on this by working with Edheads, an Ohio educational game developer, to create a simulation game that puts the player right on the engine manufacturing assembly line to teach logic and critical thinking.

EPIC will work with middle schoolers, community college students and and current manufacturing associates working for the company. The program will develop "enthusiasm" for manufacturing by partnering with businesses and schools to create six mobile labs that feature robotics, and by sponsoring a week-long summer STEM Techie camp. To build "passion," new educational opportunities will involve visiting Honda facilities and will fund regional schools for STEM curriculum advancement. Honda engineers and technicians will also visit schools to deliver lessons.

Honda will also be partnering with area two-year colleges to provide innovative programs and twelve $2,500 scholarships for students pursuing associate degrees in manufacturing or mechanical engineering technology. And it will expand a work-study pilot program that allows students to work at Honda three days a week while taking classes the other two days.

Honda will also open two new technical development centers at the Anna Engine and Marysville Auto Plants, designed to help its associates gain the expertise needed for the high-tech manufacturing setting.