High School Educator Survey

In August 2021, we wanted to get a better understanding of academia’s perceptions and access to manufacturing opportunities. We emailed 584 Idaho high school educators, introducing ourselves and our mission with Forging Futures, asking those educators to complete a 10-15 minute survey that consisted of 20 multiple choice questions and 3 open-ended responses. The questions focused on:

  • Awareness and perceptions of manufacturing
  • Participation in career-technical education
  • Interest in 3rd party programming and various services
  • Sense of post-secondary readiness
  • Existing relationships with local industry

We plan to use the feedback to shape our content and programming for Idaho’s students and educators.

For a summer solicitation, we received a fair response of the 584 solicitations (556 unbounced). Responses came from a mix of counselors, administrators, teachers, and paraprofessionals across both CTE and non-CTE sites. We also incentivized participation by selecting completed surveys to win Amazon gift cards.
When asked about awareness of opportunities in manufacturing, educators indicated that they believed students had some awareness, moreso within CTE sites. Interestingly, responses indicated that educators were less aware of manufacturing opportunities than their student body. 77% of respondents believed more students would pursue manufacturing if provided experiential learning opportunities.
After asking about awareness, we wanted to gauge perceptions regarding different components of manufacturing careers. Responses were slightly more favorable than neutral, with a few unfavorable perceptions from the non-CTE sites.
On the next questions, educators indicated that a large chunk of their students, predominantly those attending CTE sites, have no intention of going to college. With a large percentage of students gravitating towards the workforce, are they adequately prepared for their next endeavor?
Although CTE sites feel a little more confident about their students’ success, the larger sentiment is that students may not be adequately prepared for life after high school.
With the open-ended responses, we asked educators to offer thoughts on challenges they faced or needs they had to either connect students with manufacturing opportunities or prepare students for life after high school.

The key takeaways from the survey were that although educators want to make substantial workforce connections, they are typically unable because of resources, time, or bandwidth and need industry input/effort (rural schools also feel more isolated and limited). Educators believe that students are not graduating with the tools necessary for post-secondary success and want more non-baccalaureate options, coupled with conversation around how training and education would look for manufacturing careers. Lastly, awareness and capabilities are lacking among educators regarding non-traditional avenues for education/careers, and without their advocacy and guidance, some students may exit high school without a plan.

Using responses from the survey, we have tailored our presentations and online content to highlight the variety of local opportunities, educate teachers as much as students, and contextualize the significance of post-secondary readiness. The following steps would be to find champions and partners in academia, especially in rural communities, and maintain a working and communicative relationship. We are building out more resources for educators like curriculum, infographics, and videos for plug-n-play use in the classroom or extracurriculars. We also need to use the existing post-secondary toolkit and adapt it to workforce programs while expanding on work-based learning opportunities with educators and employers.

To see full feedback data:

Manufacturing Champions – Alex Wolford

Alex Wolford – Trades & Safety Industry Partner Developer, College of Southern Idaho

Alex Wolford believes everyone deserves the chance to thrive. As Trades & Safety Industry Partner Developer at College of Southern Idaho, her role is to connect individuals at any stage of their professional journey to their big picture goals, whether it’s by placing them into employment that will help them grow or by giving them the skills and or/certifications to gain experience and promotional opportunity within their current positions.

She also collaborates with companies and organizations to help them reach their training, employment, and community needs. “Manufacturing has become one of the leading industries driving our economy forward and is crucial to the success of the Magic Valley,” she says. To keep manufacturing successful, the industry needs a growing workforce that is prepared to keep pace with advances in technology. In that vein, Alex recently helped coordinate a Manufacturing Career Camp at CSI to support 75 Magic Valley students ages 12-18 discover their interest in manufacturing and to encourage the pursuit of a manufacturing career.

Born and raised in Twin Falls, Alex enjoys camping, hiking, or being on the lake with my family. She is a foster mom who is working hard to do her part in making a difference in her community through work and support of our youth.

To learn more about Alex’s work at CSI, visit:

Manufacturing Champions – Marita Diffenbaugh

Marita Diffenbaugh – Administrator/Principal at Elevate North Academy

Marita is an educator who loves encouraging others to dream and take action! She recently published her first book, “L.E.A.R.N.E.R. Finding the True, Good, and Beautiful in Education” to inspire all the difference makers who support learners and learning.

With that in mind, she’s taking her passion to the next level as Administrator/Principal of Elevate Academy North, a career technical public charter school opening in North Idaho, 2022.

Elevate Academy North’s is founded on the belief that all students deserve the opportunity to engage in an educational program that is meaningful to them, and that provides a direction and sense of purpose for their future. This school brings education and industry together in a 6th-12th grade, learning environment to build the future the local community and the workforce through offerings that align with N Idaho’s industry needs and local industry partnerships that include manufacturing, aerospace/drone technology, construction, culinary arts, business/marketing, medical arts, and others.

Marita is excited to shape the future of the local community, education, and workforce while helping students become career leaders – industry certified, engaged, productive professionals. Follow Marita and Elevate Academy North’s journey on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook as they prepare for their school opening August 2022!

What Are Soft Skills And Why Do I Keep Hearing About Them?

Soft-skills are behavioral traits that you as an individual possess and in-turn, relate to work and interactions with your colleagues. Whereas knowing how to program software or drive a forklift would be technical (or hard) skills, soft skills would be communication, adaptability, and problem solving.  

During our I-90 Aerospace Conference and Expo for students this month, the one common response we heard regarding career success was developing soft skills—whether it was for the job hunt or upward mobility and promotions. The notion isn’t new and many employers stress how critical soft skills are in the workplace with some like LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, and Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson, publicly expressing their preference for soft skills over technical skills.  

Technical skills are still extremely important and will allow you to do the job you were hired to perform (without technical skills, you may not have a job), but the main point is to emphasize the value of a well-rounded individual. If you want to explore ways to build on soft skills, type “how to develop soft skills” into a search bar, and you’ll find plenty of videos, courses, and articles to point you in the right direction. It will take a sense of self-awareness, intent, and occasional feeling of awkwardness, but soft skills will go a long way in both your professional and personal interactions. Like Lane from Micron said, “engineers aren’t stereotypically known for being talkers, so I took it upon myself to work on my communication to help me stand out professionally.” 

Have questions about soft skills or how to highlight them in your manufacturing career goals? Let us know by emailing 

Manufacturing Champions – Patrick O’Halloran

Patrick O’Halloran – Aerospace Director at North Idaho College

Nearly 10 years ago, Patrick and his wife made the decision to return to northern Idaho to raise his family. That move and his experience both with the United States Air Force and Industry led Patrick to become the Aerospace Director at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene.

In his role, he strives to keep the college’s training in manufacturing, maintenance, and the trades suited to companies in the region to enhance the careers of Coeur d’Alene’s current and future workforce. He believes the processes and equipment of modern manufacturing are amazing and have a quick pace of upgrading, so by keeping the on-ramp to these careers wide open, it will benefit the economy, the community, and the country as a whole.

Patrick is a happy husband to Mandy, father of four, and USAF-retired. In his free-time, he enjoys traveling and any excuse to get outdoors, especially with family & friends.

Manufacturing Champions – Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly- Assistant Principal/ Industry Liaison, Dennis Technical Education Center.

Sean Kelly just wrapped up his 5th year at Dennis Technical Education Center and his 23rd in the Boise School District. Dennis Technical Education Center is one of seventeen Career Technical Schools (CTS) in the state of Idaho that provides students opportunities to develop industry-driven skills and the innovative edge needed for high-demand careers like those in manufacturing.

Aside from the traditional Assistant Principal role, Sean works on developing partnerships between industry and DTEC’s programs. As a result, he is constantly looking to add work-based learning opportunities for students such as job shadows, internships, and Registered Apprenticeships. One of his long-term goals is to have an apprenticeship opportunity for every one of the 18 programs offered at DTEC. He believes youth apprenticeship is a great way for manufacturers to develop a pipeline of young talent as students are looking for meaningful work in fields that are related to their classes, stating, “If companies don’t start recruiting young talent now, vital institutional knowledge is lost as your top talent retires.”

About Sean: He grew up in Pendleton OR where his family owned a lumber yard appropriately called Kelly Lumber Supply. He moved to Idaho with his wife in 1992 to attend Boise State, and never left. When Sean’s not at DTEC, you can find him in his shop building furniture or doing leatherwork with vintage hand tools.

To learn more about Dennis Technical Education Center and the work they do, visit:

What is Manufacturing and Why is it Important in Idaho?

There are several spins on adages of how important manufacturing is in our world, whether “it’s the cornerstone of our economy”, “the backbone of America”, or “the lifeblood of any nation”. These terms and their variation exist for good reason as manufacturing is intertwined with every other industry and integral to the basic operations within society. 

But what is manufacturing? In simple terms, manufacturing is the creation of products or goods from raw materials; it creates these products by using human labor, machinery, tools, and chemical or biological processes. From there, the products can then be sold to other manufacturers for further production or to consumers through wholesalers, retailers, or directly through catalog or website. Think about your car, the furniture you sit on or sleep in, or that computer you’re using—all of that came to be through the manufacturing process. 

As a result of how important manufacturing is to our day-to-day, it is constantly transforming through changing needs and innovations in technology and processes. We’ve come a long way since the introduction of interchangeable parts; in fact, we’re currently undergoing the 4th industrial revolution as we see an increase in automation and smart-systems in the industry. Manufacturing has hit some rough patches over the last few decades as production was shipped outside of the country and the industry was given a misplaced reputation for unskilled labor, but its future is bright as operations become safer and more efficient and the jobs evolve within the industry, especially here in Idaho. 

Idaho is fertile ground for both employers and talent interested in manufacturing opportunities as it has one of the fastest growing workforces, business friendliness, and recognition as one of the best states to live in. The communal, yet independent mentality throughout the state positions Idahoans to succeed and it is showing with our economy. Idaho is now home to over 1800 manufacturers and is seeing a huge growth in population through migration; however, even though we are seeing a low unemployment rate, we are in the back of the pack when it comes to other important metrics in educational success and percentage of Idahoans earning minimum wages.

Creating talent pipelines into living wage careers in Idaho can shift the focus to providing current and future job-seekers with actual skills and training that are valued in the workplace and build up our communities’ prosperity throughout the state. With an average wage that nears the highest for private-sector pay, there are many great opportunities that exist in the industry—whether it’s for a labor force that gains on the job (OTJ) technical skills to climb the economic ladder or individuals with advanced formal degrees for an extremely rewarding career. Our goal is to lead the conversation and open the window for success in Idaho with manufacturing.