Macomb County has been running a coordinated Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) for six years but with restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the entire event was shifted to a virtual format. With 1,600 participants registered and content spread over a week-long format, the engagement event may never go back to just being a face-to-face process, despite some online challenges.
MFG Day is a national movement launched in 2012 that encourages manufacturers to open their doors to high school students for a day, introducing them to what a career in manufacturing means. Macomb County Planning and Economic Development (MCPED) was one of the first counties to launch a coordinated MFG Day effort, directly connecting local companies with high schools.
The digital experience this year featured six companies virtually showcasing their facilities through secure Zoom meetings. It included interviews with workers, educational pathway tips, and 3D virtual tours. Each session drew between 100 to 250 viewers, said MCPED outreach specialist Janelle Arbuckle-Michael — far more than the 20 to 40 students who are usually able to attend a session in person.
"It was a really successful week, we had a lot of teachers and students jump on and found a lot of value to that," said Arbuckle-Michael.
Stephen Couchman believes there's a lot of potential for events to branch into the virtual realm.
Stephen Couchman, president and CEO of LivePicture, was part of the team coordinating the virtual format and said the advantages of having online session is that the recorded session can be archived and accessed later, to be used by teachers throughout the year.
"Typically kids get one day, one manufacturer, and one bus ride," Couchman said. "Virtually, we can cover a lot more."
It wasn't all a smooth process, though. Couchman said making sure the balance of using technology and creating a platform that was easy to use was sometimes a challenge.
"We definitely had some technical difficulties," said Arbuckle-Michael. "We put our Zoom sessions through YouTube for security purposes, so students faces weer protected, but unfortunately a lot school districts block YouTube."
Despite the obstacles, both Arbuckle-Michael and Couchman believe further MFG Day events could be a hybrid of in-person and online sessions.
"As far as virtual shows go, I think we have only been playing with the tip of the iceberg," said Couchman.