Innovative ECEC Model Addresses Manufacturing Talent Pipeline in Ohio


The ECEC program helps students gain a significant competitive edge with STEM skills and real-life work experience.

Currently, America’s manufacturing industry has a critical need for high school graduates with STEM skills to fill high-paying, middle class jobs. By 2027, the aging of the manufacturing workforce will create a shortage of as many as two million qualified manufacturing workers, especially among advanced manufacturing positions such as industrial mechanics and operators of computer-controlled machine tools.

In Northeast Ohio, where manufacturing is the lifeblood of the regional economy, that need is particularly acute. In this region, a Team NEO state of the workforce report tells us:

  • Over 11,000 manufacturing companies employ over 275,000 people (roughly one in every five jobs).
  • The annual demand for workers with basic certifications like welding and CNC machining is nearly double what is produced by regional education organizations.
  • Manufacturing is one of 18 professional and technical occupations offering family sustaining wages, transferrable skills, recognized certifications, and a growing industry.

In Ohio, the Solution is ECEC

In response, MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, an Ohio MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership) created an employer-led pre-apprenticeship program. Armed with firm commitments to provide high school students with a paid two-year internship from companies such as Swagelok, Lincoln Electric, Nordson, and Parker Hannifin, MAGNET developed the concept for the Early College Early Career (ECEC) Program.

ECEC includes all of the following: Career Awareness, Mentoring, College Credit (paid for by Ohio’s College Credit Plus program), Recognized Industry Certification, Soft Skills, and Earn and Learn. Many STEM education programs may include one or two of these elements, but by providing all six, ECEC’s comprehensive program composition provides the unique approach necessary to encourage real change.  

Program Pilot & Rollout

In the Fall of 2015, ECEC launched its initial programming with ninth graders in five pilot high schools in Northeast Ohio. Every 9th grade student attends awareness-building seminars, watches online videos, hears from guest speakers, and takes a factory tour. As a result, students understand their options and see a clear career path. In many cases, activities like plant tours involve the students, teachers, and parents simultaneously.

After eight weekly onsite tours and demonstrations at local manufacturers, 73% of student participants said they would consider a career in manufacturing, a huge increase from the 25% that said they would before the tours and demos.

A year after the pilot began, cohorts of tenth graders received intensive STEM education through hands-on engineering projects, meetings with local manufacturing leadership, and Open Houses designed to engage their parents in understanding the potential of manufacturing careers. In the next year, those 60 11th graders started their two-year long, paid internships with ten local manufacturers.

Throughout the process, and with the buy-in of the school’s administration, MAGNET works to educate the high school’s teachers, guidance counselors, and parents about the rewarding careers available in manufacturing, while also addressing misperceptions and outdated stereotypes.

Looking Forward

Throughout the lifecycle of the program, ECEC students will obtain up to 12 college credits through Ohio’s College Credit Plus program (all eight participating companies offer tuition reimbursement, creating a debt-free pathway to college), a recognized manufacturing certification (NIMS Level One), transferrable skills, two years of work experience in a professional environment, and even a potential job offer from an employer.

By aligning with the Ohio Department of Education College and Career readiness graduation standards, and partnering with local public education and local employers, no matter the path these students choose forward following the completion of the program, they have gained a significant competitive edge with STEM skills and real-life work experience that can lead to a rewarding, sustainable career in manufacturing.