In November 2016, voters in Germantown approved an $84 million referendum that would go toward upgrading buildings and classrooms in the Germantown School District. To capitalize on this, the School Board voted to use $1.2 million out of a fund to equip Germantown High School’s Technology Education Department with state-of-the-art industrial-grade technology.
Tim Mehring, Technology Education Instructor at Germantown High School, said his department has been using Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum for over 10 years. With this new funding he looks forward to increasing PLTW’s value by incorporating industry-level equipment.
With the help of LAB Midwest, the department recently purchased a FANUC Fenceless CERT Cart Robot, a Robot-Loaded Machining Center, and a Robotic Weld Cell. Now, PLTW students can get exposure to authentic industrial practices instead of simulations alone.
This is part of the plan behind the referendum: to create a Technology Education program that mimics industry, and it will be carried out in three steps:
Step 1: Basic Manufacturing
Step 2: CNC / Machining
Step 3: Full integration with Robotics
Last year, Tech Ed students worked mostly with building VEX robots. Now, the FANUC robots will be incorporated into higher-level progressions of the PLTW curriculum when students learn about industrial-grade robotics.
The decision to incorporate hands-on, real-life industrial technology stems from the expansion of manufacturing and the plethora of jobs available – and the lack of skilled workers to fill these jobs.
As a result, colleges and industry are getting involved in technology education at the high school level in order to support the future workforce of America. Milwaukee Area Technical College is working on establishing dual credits with Germantown. And local companies are investing in their Tech Ed program, as well.
J.W. Speaker is one of those companies supporting PLTW curriculum in its $50,000 donation to the Germantown School District . Founded in downtown Milwaukee 1935, it moved it Germantown in 1988. The manufacturing company has seen massive expansion over the last 10 years, and has plans to continue expansion of its campus in the city.
Leslie Fee, Development Specialist at J.W. Speaker, says the company invested in the school as a way of benefitting both the company and the students.
“With all this growth and future projects, we know that we’re going to need more people working for J.W. Speaker. So we wanted to work with the high school, knowing that not everyone is interested in a traditional four-year college. The future of manufacturing is bright at J.W. Speaker and we’re excited to share the possibilities with the students at Germantown High School.”
This summer, the company hosted a week-long externship for six teachers from Germantown High School across a variety of departments. Teachers had an opportunity to learn more about the manufacturing processes at J.W. Speaker so they could take this knowledge back to their programs and work to implement curriculum that feeds into skills relevant for the workplace.
The company is also invested in preparing students for the future workforce with on-the-job training. Over the summer a 16-year-old Germantown student worked at J.W. Speaker, and his work productivity was beyond expectation. Future plans for J.W. Speaker include a youth apprenticeship program in order to provide students an opportunity to experience firsthand what a career in manufacturing could look like.
But Tech Ed students aren’t the only ones to benefit from the new equipment. Mehring explained,
“Technology should be in every classroom. Over the past years, Germantown School District has begun to incorporate an educational approach that allows teachers to provide hands-on and real-life examples within their respective subject areas. With the addition of three brand new FANUC Robots the district recently purchased, the Technology Department is well-positioned to incorporate aspects of its curriculum with the core subject areas (Math, Science, and English), which will bring a new level of realism to the subject matter taught in these core areas.”
Students who might never have entered the fab lab will now have the opportunity to apply concepts learned in core classes like geometry and physics. And getting practical will help solidify conceptual knowledge for kinesthetic learners.
“Incorporating the FANUC Robots into the core subject areas will allow students to apply principles taught in the core subject areas – from simple points in space to complex calculations with torque and payload – in a hands-on, real-life manner,” Mehring explained.
The department hopes to fully integrate technology into all classrooms in the next two years.
And there’s an added bonus to this plan: before, many students might not have considered a career in manufacturing. Now, exposure to advanced robotic equipment in core classes may redirect their career trajectory.
Mehring hopes so. “Because much of the robotics equipment, such as the robotic arms, are easily transportable thanks to the Cert Carts, we look forward to exposing not only these resources, but also technology and manufacturing, to a large group of students who many never have enrolled in a technology class or have even thought about the multitude of career opportunities within the technology field,” he said.
Modern manufacturing is innovative, advancing, and as a career, it offers job security. With schools like Germantown embracing advanced manufacturing equipment and curriculum, and with companies like J.W. Speaker offering jobs and training to students who want to explore these career possibilities, there may just be a close in the skills-gap as manufacturing reestablishes a dominant place in the American workforce.
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