Sometimes our focus on immediate problems can make us oblivious to efforts to raise skill levels and improve the image of metalworking careers. On a recent visit to the U. S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, I saw more than 50 soldier/students and their instructors learning to use the new online testing system available through the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Just last March, I attended a ceremony at Aberdeen to recognize the achievement of NIMS accreditation for machinist training by the Army Ordnance Maintenance Training Center. Five years ago (1998), NIMS issued the first credentials in Level I machining. Only five years earlier (1993), the metalworking skill standards existed only as a concept. After just a decade of existence, NIMS is a vital part of the overall strategy by the Army to align its training programs with industry standards. This is because of the value placed on recruitment and retention of good technical personnel to meet the changing demands of the modern hi-tech battlefield.
Let’s look at other efforts to strengthen manufacturing’s human resource base. NTMA past chairman Roger Sustar (Fredon Corp., Cleveland, Ohio) sponsors a project that involves ten to 15 Explorer Scouts in the production of scale model Napoleonic brass cannons. Students work from drawings, using a variety of metalcutting processes to fabricate gun barrels and carriage parts. Organizing the activity into separate task functions emphasizes dimensional tolerancing and interchangeability of components.
Rick Ahaus (Ahaus Tool & Engineering, Richmond, Indiana) has taken the project a step further by adding CAD software and allowing students to design steam engines, race cars, boats and planes to get the feel for this important part of manufacturing.
As another example, NASA and several corporations sponsor the annual FIRST Robotics Competition (www.usfirst.org) for high school students. Since its beginning in 1989, FIRST has grown to include 800 teams and more than 20,000 students from the United States, Canada, Brazil and Great Britain competing in 24 regional locations. The 2003 Championship was held in Houston, Texas, in April. The group also organizes the FIRST LEGO League for elementary and middle school students.
Then there are many career day activities hosted by schools. A variation on this comes from the Tool, Die & Machining Association of Wisconsin. More than 900 area middle school students came to Waukesha Technical College to explore career-related activities including surveying, applying pin stripes to autos, flying planes and assembling a dinosaur model. Activities were designed to identify jobs involved in each process. For the dinosaur model activity, students were given a drawing with instructions and foam plastic parts. As the students assembled the model, they learned about at least seven jobs necessary for the production of this “toy”: artist, designer, engineer, toolmaker, programmer, CNC machinist and packager. Adding the raw material production/delivery at the beginning and sales/distribution at the end expanded this experience.
In Michigan, Greenville Public Schools and the Chamber of Commerce sponsor a career showcase that invites high school students and their parents to visit more than 30 employers. Students can schedule one visit a week during a 5-week period. Besides manufacturing technology, the showcase includes business management, arts/communications, health sciences, human services and natural resources/agri-science.
In Cleveland, a group called the Westside Industrial Retention and Expansion Network (www.wire-net.org) has more than 150 members, including the NASA Glenn Research Center and three metalworking trade associations, dedicated to industry career promotion. Since 1988, the group has used field trips, mentoring, internships, career days and workshops to reach adults and students.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (www.sae.org/students) offers a team teaching instructional package called “A World in Motion” to bring applied science and math topics to elementary and middle schools. Volunteer engineers act as technical experts to assist 4th through 8th grade instructors in presenting the hands-on activities.
Try extending this list—you might find something to try out locally. Other sites to explore include www.manufacturingiscool.com; www.tomakeit.org; www.sminet.org. If you prefer to look for ideas “outside the box”, try Ford Academy of Manufacturing Science (www.famsonline.org); Automotive Youth Education System (www.ayes.org); or the National Center for Construction Education and Research (www.nccer.org).