It's Not Your Father's Manufacturing Technology

Dark. Dirty.

Columns From: 10/1/2002 Modern Machine Shop,

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Dark. Dirty. Dangerous. That's manufacturing. Right?

Wrong! High technology has swept this stereotype away. Today's manufacturing is clean, sophisticated and high tech. "Brain power" shines over "back power."

As a result, students who are interested in manufacturing technology are being encouraged to pursue tailored technical education so that they will be able to better meet the needs of manufacturing technology companies. Many of these companies realize that a significant group of their employees will be retiring in the next 5 to 10 years and are planning for their human resources needs.

To answer these needs, some companies are partnering with high schools and technical schools. This helps schools understand and teach the necessary workplace skills. In addition, teachers, counselors and school administrators gain a beter understanding of the dignity, good pay and personal satisfaction manufacturing technology offers.

Ellison Machine Tool and Robotics (Warrenville, Illinois) is such a leader. Through partnerships with area middle schools, junior high and high schools, Ellison reaches out to potential employees. It began inviting seventh grade classes for company visits in 1997. Students get excited about the computer-controlled machine tools and computer-aided design they see. This excitement carries over into high school.

In September, Ellison hosted four high schools at the Student Summit that was held in conjunction with IMTS. Students learned first-hand about manufacturing technology and how classroom lessons relate to that technology, and they explored career opportunities. The addition of the Student Summit to a hard-working trade show consistently earns praise from students and teachers.

Today more than ever, careers in manufacturing technology require a knowledge of math and science. Employers prize the ability to think through a project and to properly program machines. The troubleshooting skills of logical thinking and root cause analysis, as well as a good sound education, are invaluable in maintenance and repair.

Ideally, a tailored technical education begins taking shape while students are in middle school. They can begin zeroing in on what aspect of manufacturing to pursue: machine operations, programming, or maintenance and repair. Students can explore the possibilities through company field trips, industry visits to the classroom and by attending the IMTS Student Summit.

The rock-solid foundation of a tailored technical education enables students to build their skills through paid apprenticeships. At the same time, they can advance their education and careers with an associate's or bachelor's degree, which many companies will pay for via tuition reimbursement.

Our nation's competitive edge in manufacturing is obviously not based on low labor costs but on engineering innovation. If we do not attract young people into the industry that forms our core markets, we will not have a market to sell to tomorrow.

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