A group of us noticed that no mentor or internship programs existed for local students to learn our local industry. We started filling up buses with students, sending them to local businesses and manufacturing facilities to expose them to these available career pathways.
growth in demand for textile workers
The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) projected that with developments in the smart and interactive fabrics market, the industry would grow to 3.1 billion workers this year, representing a growth rate of 18 percent a year. While this may seem like rapid growth, experts say that this growth is not enough to support demand.
Coated Technical Solutions (CTS) and others in the international advanced textiles and specialty fabrics marketplace are seeking solutions that will feed the pipeline of workers needed to drive the smart fabrics market into the future.
CTS has partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Education and other local nonprofit organizations to support a program called FabNewport, which gives students as young as third grade access to learn in-demand skills as basic as sewing and as advanced as integrating interactive capabilities into fabric products using coding and electronics.
With a tagline of “Make, Learn, Do,” this community-based program provides alternative pathways to science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) education through expert mentoring and hands-on activities. With a schedule flexible enough to accommodate all ages of learners, this Rhode Island community is building technical skills and talent for an under-supplied smart fabric industry, while cultivating the personal attributes required for success in life, like grit, self control, empathy, problem solving, and resilience.
Did you know?
From the early 1800’s to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, textile mills dominated the Rhode Island urban landscape. Rhode Island and Massachusetts in particular had conditions ideal for the textile industry’s development – a growing society looking to diversify and find new investments, and a good supply of the water courses needed in those early days to power the mills.
Though the textile industry in Rhode Island has changed, it continues to be a driving industrial force with major economic impact. A pioneer in the fabric industry from the days of the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island is now home to approximately 60 companies that produce technologically advanced textiles which are used in diverse applications, including the military.
What does the workforce of the future look like?
Critical to the development of the smart fabric pipeline is exposure early to the technology required for textile innovation and the viable career paths available within this industry. Automation and machine learning are changing the nature of work and redefining the types of skilled jobs that are emerging. The use of smart textiles designed to monitor patient health or provide treatment requires that the workforce of the future be tech-proficient and also human-centered, social, and analytical.
FabNewport, which started in 2013 in Newport, Rhode Island is a Fab Lab (Fabrication Lab) Makerspace that teaches kids how to “make” through a variety of informal and formal programs, such as coding, 2-D and 3-D design, electronics, sewing, and personalized manufacturing. Most important to this program is a dedication to extensive learning through hands-on experiences. The team of mentors at FabNewport blend this technical knowledge with opportunities for students, primarily 10-18 years-old, to discover their talents, share knowledge, and network with their peers to solve problems.
attend FabNewport programs weekly throughout the school year
are offered for students age 10-15 for school credit, with family programs on Friday evenings
Rhode Island students have completed FabNewport programs
The group began with no more than 10 industry professionals dedicated to closing this skills and achievement gap. With the growth of the program and the success of FabNewport students in the state, the partnership list has grown as well to include organizations such as:
- Newport Chamber of Commerce
- Providence After School Alliance
- The Boys and Girls Club of Newport County
- Rhode Island Department of Education
- The Metropolitan Career and Technical Education Center
- Newport Community School
- The University of Rhode Island
- Providence Community Library
- Providence Public Library
- Salve Regina University
- as well as other companies, governments, schools, communities, non-profits, and other organizations and individuals dedicated to our industry’s growth
What are the results?
FabNewport puts kids in a work-like environment. They balance skills development with project development, teaching Rhode Island youth to code, design, sew, and run advanced machinery. Students earn credentials based on their proficiency and, as they spend more time in the program, learn about career pathways critical to the local economy.
The soft skills employers desire are organically fostered through collaborative learning environments. As students work their way from Apprentice, to Journeyer, to Mastery, some of their effort goes into teaching their newly developed skills to others. Students refine their knowledge around the skill and become empathetic communicators and coaches, which in turn grows confidence.
Is this a repeatable model?
FabNewport is the small kid on the block supported by a community dedicated to its success. CTS identified a need that was not yet being supported and partnered with existing institutions within the community that shared the same set of goals and values.
This common model relies on the technical expertise of the business and the ability of the educational institutions to help build an environment where students can learn. To replicate this model, create an environment where students can explore their interests and nurture their curiosity, while gaining exposure to the types of technology and training that lead to successful careers.
“During the summer it was great learning new things and doing things I’ve never done before. It’s also really fun to hang out with the kids.” — Lily