Filmmaking Competition Aims to Get Young People Interested in Manufacturing Careers

By Jeffrey Bonior
Mar 27 2023 |
The Outstanding Overall Program award at last week’s “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” awards went to the team from Conrad Weiser Middle School, whose corporate partner was John F. Martin & Sons, LLC., a food processing company.

The “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” contest in Pennsylvania asks middle schoolers to make videos that promote manufacturing as a career pathway.

How do you get students interested in manufacturing? Well, ask them to come up with some ideas.

That’s the thinking behind What’s So Cool About Manufacturing, a video contest for seventh and eighth grade students in Pennsylvania designed to encourage young people to check out careers in manufacturing. Now in its 10th year, the video contest is facilitated by the Manufacturing Resources Center (MRC) and includes 11 regional student manufacturing contests held throughout Pennsylvania.

The latest batch of winners was announced on Tuesday, March 21 before a capacity crowd of 1,000 people at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Reading. The “Emmy Awards of Manufacturing” featured 27 middle schools and manufacturers in Berks and Schuylkill counties of the Keystone State.

There were 12 “outstanding” categories, and the video with the most votes overall received the “Viewers Choice Award.” Student videos were also reviewed by a panel of judges for awards in additional categories, including Outstanding Career Pathway and Outstanding Creativity.

“We’ve had up to 16 regional competitions in past years and we’ve been in about 60 of the 67 Pennsylvania counties,” said Karen Buck, director of Workforce Initiative and co-founder of the MRC. “We’ve had some contracts throughout the state since we started 10 years ago, creating the MRC in the Lehigh Valley in 2013.”

The “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” contest is designed to bring awareness to younger students about employment prospects that abound in manufacturing in the Berks-Schuylkill portion of the state. Each student team created a two-minute video that focuses on working with one of the local manufacturing companies. The videos were posted online and over a three-day voting period, manufacturing devotees cast 190,554 ballots.

The contest is also shared nationally through the Manufacturing Institute and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) platforms. It allows students to connect with local manufacturers, document their experiences and present them in an educational and, of course, a cool way. The contest was created to generate excitement that draws students toward manufacturing career paths, along with a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus.

“Seven years ago, we expanded the ‘What’s So Cool’ contest to the Berks-Schuylkill region and we are thrilled to have had another strong season with great community support and 27 teams who raised awareness about cool career opportunities right here in our region,” Buck said. “This year, we proudly announce all previous area voting records were shattered, showing the increased interest in the program throughout the community.

“We call it the Emmys of manufacturing and it’s really a celebration. We run it like the Emmys, and it really feels like the Emmys with the videos and the talent.”

Kutztown Area Middle School won the “Outstanding Creativity” award in this year’s What’s So Cool About Manufacturing contest for the Berks and Schuylkill countries region.

“When I speak to school superintendents, which is regularly throughout the year, I make sure that they know that our message isn’t, ‘don’t go to college,’” Buck continues. “Our message is, ‘if you don’t know what you want to do, or if you do know what you want to do but don’t know how to pay for it, get a job in manufacturing. You can learn what you are good at, you can afford different things and if you find something you want to pursue with more education, manufacturers have programs with college tuition.’ So, what we are trying to promote and encourage folks in the community is to take a look at careers at our participating manufacturing companies so you don’t have to graduate from college with $100,000 worth of debt.”

It can be a tall order to ask a group of middle school students to start planning for a possible lifetime career in manufacturing, but it is never too early to develop a versatile set of job skills. And the factory jobs of today are different from what previous generations experienced.

“My father was in a ‘dark, dirty, dangerous’ manufacturing setting when he was steelworker at the steel mills at Bethlehem,” Buck said. “Even I was in engineering in the ‘80s, I was a mechanical engineer and spent a lot of time at my company on the floor and even that was also yesterday’s manufacturing.

“Today, it is all cutting edge and state of the art and that’s the message we want to get out – and not just to the students. We want to get that message out to parents, guidance counselors, principals, superintendents and really, how do we get that message out to the entire community?

“That is what is so cool about ‘What’s So Cool About Manufacturing,’ because it is a community awareness program. We want the whole community to take a look inside the doors of the manufacturing facilities they drive by every day.”

You can find the complete list of entrants and videos in the Berks-Schuylkill regional competition who were proudly represented by the respective students and manufacturers at Tuesday evening’s ceremony here.