The Ferris State University rubber technology program is in trouble. Is that important to you?
It should, and can, be, if you're a participant in the rubber business.
The Big Rapids, Mich., school's College of Technology rubber program is an adopted child of the rubber industry. The creation of the program was encouraged and partially funded by rubber companies. Several manufacturers and the ACS Rubber Division provide scholarships for students, and they all are given opportunities for internships within the rubber sector.
And there is no bigger proponent of the nine-year-old program than the Rubber Manufacturers Association. It has been the RMA, and in particular its Elastomer Products Group, that has championed Ferris State and helped encourage the industry to donate $4 million to the program.
The problem at Ferris State is enrollment, or, more specifically, the lack of it. Four students graduated from the rubber technology program last year, and only five freshmen entered this year. The trend has been sliding downward drastically for years.
Potential students seem to be bypassing the program out of fear of casting their fate with the manufacturing sector. This is the product of years of decline by the auto industry in Michigan and the perception of a general malaise in manufacturing in the U.S.
If you're an unskilled production worker, you can make that case. But that's not what Ferris State is all about.
The irony is, every student who has graduated from this program has gotten multiple job offers. Their average starting pay has been $50,000.
The public's memory is very short-termed. People in the rubber industry can't afford that luxury. It wasn't long ago the industry was hurting for skilled workers.
It would be short-sighted to believe that scenario can't repeat itself after the massive restructuring the industry has undergone in recent years. If the business can't lure college graduates, it surely will suffer for it in the future.
Rubber industry companies need to be proactive and help market their industry to today's youth. Contact the RMA and ask what you can do.
It's not just about the students' future. It's your company's, too.