FlexFactor:  Faith in the Future for San Jose

Guest Blogpost by Emily McGrath, Deputy Director of Workforce Development, NextFlex 

This June, NextFlex—an advanced manufacturing institute based in San Jose—completed the second year of FlexFactor, its flagship workforce development program. A collaborative technology and entrepreneurship program, FlexFactor connects local K-12 students with organizations in higher education, industry, and government, to inform, inspire, attract, and recruit a 21st century workforce. This year alone, FlexFactor worked with more than 2,000 San Jose-area students and has begun to catch the attention of workforce organizations from around the country.

FlexFactor rests on three pillars: cutting-edge technology, principals of entrepreneurship, and direct engagement with the education and career pathways that feed into the advanced manufacturing sector.  In the program, students work in small teams to identify a real-world problem, conceptualize a technology-based hardware device that addresses the problem, build a business model for the product and pitch the concept to a panel of representatives in a “Shark Tank-style” setting. Students visit local advanced manufacturing companies prior to conceptualizing their product to see first-hand what it means to work in an advanced manufacturing environment. Additionally, students spend a day at a local college or university where they enroll as students, receive entrepreneurship instruction, and tour the campus.

The program’s project-based learning approach uses multi-step problems without predefined solutions to inspire creative thought, critical reasoning, and problem solving amongst students. Additionally, FlexFactor’s agile curriculum encourages students to take ownership of their education by focusing on problem areas that are interesting and meaningful to them, while honing important skills such as thesis development, research, and oral presentation, and becoming familiar with cutting-edge technology.

FlexFactor is designed to layer on top of an existing classroom and uses a subject-agnostic approach that allows it to work as well with English students as it does with a Robotics class. Through this method, the program engages with a diverse range of students, many of whom who had not previously considered STEM tracks. The program’s structured and strategic engagement with higher education ensures that students have a vision for a potential educational and career pathways, catalyzing and orienting a diverse group of the future workforce. Additionally, the inclusion of industry engagement allows companies to actively participate in the recruitment and development of next-generation talent they desperately need.

In its second year, NextFlex developed targeted versions to attract a wide variety of students to learn about career possibilities in advanced manufacturing industries that are just emerging, and we expanded our reach geographically. These included customized one-day programs for middle school students who are considering STEM programs in high school, elementary school students who are just becoming aware of specialty track education pathways, and English Language Development courses to help put language learning into the context of technology and entrepreneurship. The FlexFactor site provides more information.

Through the continued expansion of the FlexFactor, NextFlex aims to recruit world class talent into the education and career pathways leading to the advanced manufacturing and technology sector. “We sincerely appreciate the continued support of the City of San Jose, our academic partners throughout the region including San Jose area school districts, San Jose City College and Evergreen Valley College, and our amazing industry partners who are helping to secure their future talent, ” says Brynt Parmeter, the Director of Workforce Development for NextFlex.