All of us know that there is a severe skill shortage in the precision metalworking industry, and most believe the key to solving this problem is training, both for incumbent workers and entry-level people. Yet the best training programs and facilities available are wasted if not enough students enroll to justify the cost of operating the system. Witness the number of machining programs at both the high school and post secondary levels that have scaled back or shut down in the last five to seven years. For example, California will only have 12 hands-on machining labs at the high school level in the 2000 school year. Most alarming is the lack of interest among young people in pursuing a career in high-tech manufacturing.
NTMA joined the steering committee for the 1998 Summit event because we agree the IMTS show presents an unparalleled showcase for informing young people about the variety of career opportunities available. The positive feedback from several thousand students and teachers who participated in the last event justifies our opinion. But the committee was interested in creating more than just a premier program that would only be used every other year. Our goal was to generate a template model that could be scaled to fit regional tool shows and similar activities around the country on a continuous basis. Two of our members have done this with great results.
Joe Barakat of Sigma Precision in Philadelphia adapted the idea to coincide with the tool show his chapter sponsors in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. With the help of Harry Moser, president of Charmilles Technologies, the show included a student day program which featured presentations by local company owners, displays, discussion sessions, and, of course, tours of the exhibits. Matthew Coffey, NTMA president, converted his luncheon speech into an interview with a second-year apprentice. This totally unrehearsed conversation covered a range of topics including job duties, work schedule, wages, work conditions, job security, and personal goals. It was phrased in “youth talk” language that connected with the target audience. More than 200 students and teachers from area vocational programs attended.
The High Performance Manufacturing Coalition (HPM/VA) in Richmond, Virginia, headed by NTMA member Bryce Jewett of Jewett Machine and Tool used a variation on the theme to develop a booth presentation in the Technology Exhibit at the Virginia State Fair last September. The 10 by 20 foot space was packed with two tabletop CNC machines, an Internet education information station, a CD-ROM virtual tour of Jewett Machine’s plant, displays of machined products from local companies, a continuous loop video career presentation area, and a kiosk of brochures and catalogs. Volunteers from three local community colleges and manufacturing companies staffed the booth on a schedule that was supervised by HPM Coordinator Lynn Wilson of John Tyler Community College.
Students operated the CNC equipment, which turned out chess pieces, engraved plaques and other plastic souvenir items. The exhibit building was also home to the Virginia State Patrol, NASA, the Jefferson National Laboratory, a cable TV company, a computer company, and various other technology businesses. It turned out the Technology Building shared a connecting hall with the Home & Garden Show and the Arts & Crafts Exhibit, so a lot of people wandered into the booth and stayed to look at the high tech toys. (A state patrol cruiser with lights running and an operating space shuttle simulator ride are hard to resist, to say nothing of freezing flowers in liquid nitrogen!) This setup offers the advantage of making direct contact with parents and students at the same time in a casual setting.
From this experience we’ve learned some important lessons:
- Students telling students how they are planning their future has more impact than older people recalling the wisdom of their past choices.
- Project/problem activities tied to the event are an excellent supplement to focus student attention and motivate instructors.
- Seeing and touching the technology and products is more important than talking and listening.
- Pre- and post-event contact with sponsoring companies is crucial to success.
And in the spirit of continuous quality improvement, the committee has built these lessons into our plans for the 2000 version of the IMTS Student Summit.