The extended NextFlex
Workforce Development team reported that the national expansion of the FlexFactor program continues to grow.
FlexFactor launched in San Jose, CA in the fall of 2016, and has since expanded to Elyria, OH and Huntsville, AL.
FlexFactor was developed by NextFlex to address the critical outreach and recruitment challenges faced by the advanced manufacturing sector. Through a project-based, student-led framework, the program engages students with advanced technologies and entrepreneurship. The curriculum is grounded in experiential learning that shows them the concepts behind hardware design and business model development through first-person discovery. Supported by field trips to an industry facility and higher education campus, FlexFactor immerses students in a wide range of career pathways. These opportunities provide enduring and transformative experiences that translate the concept of a future career from an esoteric notion to a concrete goal and a corresponding path to achievement.
FlexFactor’s project-based learning framework integrates the concepts around research, design, development, manufacture, marketing, sale, and distribution of a new hardware product. Engagement with this variety of functions accomplishes two important tasks. First, it encourages students to experiment with a multitude of potential career pathways. Second, it promotes the type of cross-functional thinking that allows both engineers and marketers to explore the technical and business considerations critical to product success. Through this unique approach to STEM-based learning, FlexFactor is highly effective at sparking a passion for things like product development in students who had never considered tech-based careers.
FlexFactor’s magic is that it simplifies connections between partners in the education and workforce development process, allowing future-thinking companies, K-12 districts, institutes of higher education, government entities, and a variety of nonprofits to co-create the technology sector talent pipeline. Through a project manager responsible for coordinating these stakeholders, the program accomplishes far more together than any one entity could by themselves.
Because the program layers over existing classes and circumvents student self-selection, FlexFactor taps into student creativity and potential, thereby diversifying and increasing the talent pipeline. This, in turn, helps local communities grow their own workforce and ensures residents benefit from the growth of industry.
While it might seem that the differences between Silicon Valley, the greater Cleveland metropolitan area, and northern Alabama would mean that each region needs different workforce solutions, FlexFactor’s agile and adaptable approach delivers the same range of education, economic development, talent acquisition, and social responsibility outcomes needed by diverse communities across the nation.
“Through FlexFactor, students can learn from their successes and mistakes. Students are continuously challenged by industry leaders, post-secondary educators, and program mentors to reflect on their research, validate their decision making, and professionally deliver their final presentation," said Deanna Hersko, the FlexFactor program manager at Loraine County Community College (Ohio). "The learning outcomes have remained constant, whether the program is delivered in Silicon Valley, The Heart of Dixie, or in Northeast Ohio. Students are mastering interdisciplinary learning, exploring career pathways, and developing their 21st-century skills. This benefits not only the students who are expected to think at a higher level, but it’s also good for the industry, as they’ll be the ones hiring these young adults one day. Helping young people become capable of working in advanced tech environments is a step in the right direction.”
FlexFactor’s ability to help teachers from any subject area deliver active and personalized learning is producing empowered and motivated students who are knowledgeable about the education pathways that will lead them to their futures.
“FlexFactor allows students in Northern Alabama to experience manufacturing, high technology, and community colleges in a way that helps them see the pathway from where they are to where they want to be," said Dr. Courtney Taylor, the FlexFactor program manager in Huntsville. "The biggest advantage it provides students is showing them the opportunities available in their area that most have not been exposed to. I’ve witnessed students getting excited about what roles they could have in the future across all aspects of advanced manufacturing, from marketing to industrial maintenance.”