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Manufacturing Week during the pandemic

Southeast Service Cooperative has teamed up with 41 community organizations, schools and local businesses to announce a virtual event for Southeast Manufacturing Week, according to a press release. The event is designed to give exposure to middle school and high school students to careers in the manufacturing field in an effort to cultivate students’ passion in the industry for regional long term economic sustainability.

Due to restrictions relating to COVID-19, this year’s event, traditionally held the first week of October, will be a departure from the usual student field trips to visit manufacturing companies for on-site tours. However, teachers and their classes will be able to learn about at least 15 local and regional manufacturing companies, representing a variety of segments of the manufacturing industry through pre-recorded tours and interviews that have been placed into the FutureForward web-based portal and can be accessed on demand.

Developed by SSC to connect educators and students to local employers for experiential hands-on and virtual learning experiences, FutureForward is a vehicle that provides students opportunities for career awareness and exploration during Manufacturing Week and continuing through the school year, according to the release.

Schools from all over southern and eastern Minnesota will take part in Manufacturing Week through use of the FutureForward platform from their classrooms and/or devices.

“Because of participation from Minnesota manufacturing companies, and due to the virtual setting of this event, students will actually be able to have increased exposure to manufacturing companies this year than in years past,” said Sarah Ness, SSC program manager. “We all miss the in-person events, but we have definitely found a model that allows students to learn about careers in manufacturing without taking any health risks and eliminating barriers like transportation.”

Manufacturing is among the strongest sectors of Minnesota’s economy, contributing over $52 billion to the state economy and accounting for almost 15% of the state’s private gross domestic product, the release stated. According to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, manufacturing accounted for over 15% of total employment in southeast Minnesota, making it the second largest industry in the region behind health care and social assistance.

Albert Lea Area Schools participate annually in the event and assist in coordinating experiences with local manufacturers.

“Our students participated in previous years, visiting several different manufacturing locations,” said John Double with Albert Lea Area Schools. “The updated format for this regional activity by the Southeast Service Cooperative creates opportunities that open doors for our students where safety concerns, COVID-19 restrictions, workplace regulations and/or travel time would have been a barrier.”

For more information on FutureForward, visit futureforward.org. For more information on Manufacturing Week 2020, contact Ness at sness@ssc.coop or 507-281-6678.