When Bonnie Stuck, president of Akron Rubber Development Laboratory Inc., attended her daughter's graduation ceremony from the University of Akron, one thing jumped out at her.
Given her long history in the rubber industry, she made note of those receiving degrees from the school's polymer science program. And it startled her when she realized those graduates included just one student from the U.S.
With the school being right in the center of the polymer industry, Stuck knew there had to be a better effort to connect with the students of the area and show them of the potential for rewarding careers in the rubber industry. To do that, the ARDL president knew one of the keys was to reach students at a younger age, and to make a connection with the STEM teachers in the region.
Stuck and ARDL teamed up earlier this year with the ACS Rubber Division on a joint training effort. The partnership included the Akron-based firm putting on an outreach program at the recent International Elastomer Conference in Cleveland, with ARDL engaging with 135 students from five area high schools.
It was critical, though, that the program was interactive. Having speakers tell the students how great the rubber industry is would have accomplished nothing, and even may have made the sector less appealing.
Instead, the time was split with doing experiments with ARDL representatives—including a number of the company's younger associates—and then going around the expo floor to learn about specific companies and what they do. At the beginning of the day, not one student raised their hand when asked if they thought about a career in the rubber industry. By the end of the day, however, roughly 25 students expressed interest.
Of course, the Rubber Division knows that these sorts of outreach initiatives need to go beyond Northeast Ohio. Attracting young blood into the rubber industry is a problem in all geographic regions, given that engineers and chemistry majors have a wide range of opportunities open to them.
The division, therefore, knows that these types of programs aimed at youth must be repeated each year and wherever the IEC is located. And to build on this success, there must be a buy-in from all corners of the rubber industry.