Kohler Skilled Trades Camp Introduces Kids to Manufacturing
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The Kohler Skilled Trades University Camp this June provided great exposure for students in STEM and manufacturing fields. The camp provides middle and high school students with a basic understanding of various STEM concepts and an introduction to different potential careers. One of the sessions in the program, hosted by LAB Midwest, focused on the fundamentals of robotic systems and application of skilled trades such as welding and forklift operation.

Students problem solve with their LJ Create vehicle at the Kohler Skilled Trades Camp

Building Mobile Robotics

Students were introduced to mobile robotics by using the LJ Create Engineering Design Kit. They started with a simple gear box, then the instructor challenged them to use the kit to create a fully-functioning vehicle. The challenge provided a great deal of room for creativity. For example, students explored a variety of methods for building their vehicles.

As soon as the challenge began, students started sharing ideas and collaborating on possible designs.

Students then learned about the function of sensors. Using these sensors, they were able to build a vehicle that could sense obstacles and adjust its movement. In only an hour, students learned and applied the concepts of powering and controlling mobile robotics.

Welding Simulation

Next, the students had an opportunity to work on a Lincoln Electric VRTEX Virtual Welding Simulator.  The Virtual Welder provided students with the ability to practice welding in a safe environment. After one trial run the simulator graded the weld on a score of 1 to 100.

Student works with the Lincoln Electric Virtual Welder at the Kohler Skilled Trades Camp

It also gave feedback on the different areas of focus, such as CTWD (Contact to Work Distance), Travel Speed, Work Angle, Travel Angle, and Position. Each of these are real-world measures of welding performance. After receiving feedback from the simulator, a LAB Midwest team member provided some tips and applied instructional cues. The cues helped students work on their most deficient areas of performance and improve their score.

Forklift Opperation

Students would then move on to working with the SimLog Forklift Simulator. Equipped with realistic operating controls, the simulator displays an obstacle course for students to show their ability to operate the vehicle. Students drove a forklift carrying a pallet through an obstacle course to a drop zone. After completing the course, the simulator provided feedback on their movement, safety, and speed. Using the feedback students could attempt the course again and better their score.

Creating Exposure

The Kohler Skilled Trades Camp exposes students to high-demand, high-wage manufacturing and industrial jobs. It introduces them to skills and terminology used in these professions they might not have known before. Most importantly, the camp gives students the foundation to continue learning about STEM and manufacturing concepts.

Claudia Krepsky, one of the coordinators of the program, said, “Our main purpose is to show young people who we are and start to get them thinking about possible classes to take in High School and future career opportunities in the skilled trades.”

Students try out the Simlog forklift simulator at the Kohler Skilled Trades Camp

Kohler has been hoping that the camp will spur kids’ interest in manufacturing jobs. The strength of the program comes from Kohler’s ability to provide valuable experiences, often changing students’ perception of manufacturing.

The other advantage, as Claudia put it, is that “the program allows us to reach out to parents and change their minds about what careers they should support their kids to pursue.” This exposure to the fundamentals of the skilled trades is combating the stigma that many students and parents perceive as being attached to manufacturing careers.  

Thanks to events like the Kohler Skilled Trades Camp, manufacturing could see a drop in the talent shortage issue. And more students will find successful careers in advanced manufacturing.

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