‘What’s so cool about manufacturing?’
OJR Middle School participating as part of new STEAM class
What’s so cool about manufacturing?
Plenty, according to Chester County school and business officials teaming up on a student video contest of the same name.
The contest pairs teams of students outfitted with GoPro cameras with local manufacturing business partners to produce videos about industrial work. The statewide theme for this year’s contest, “What’s so cool about manufacturing?” relates to Friday’s observance of Manufacturing Day, which in turn is a project of the national DreamItDoIt educational initiative.
Eight Chester County districts, including Owen J. Roberts and Phoenixville Area, are participating in this year’s contest. Last year, Phoenixville’s high school team was among the winners of the video competition.
This year’s contest involves students in middle schools in keeping with a countywide theme of introducing students at younger ages to the career possibilities in manufacturing.
The goal is to introduce students to jobs opportunities, in particular technical and engineering jobs, before they choose their courses for high school, explained Alan Slobojan, project consultant for Chester County Economic Development Council and the Manufacturing Alliance of Chester and Delaware Counties.
“The contest brings awareness of advanced manufacturing through the eyes of our students,” Slobojan said. “They’re
“They’re learning about the wide range of careers available in manufacturing today, right here in Chester County.” – Alan Slobojan, project consultant for Chester County Economic Development Council and the Manufacturing Alliance of Chester and Delaware Counties
learning about the wide range of careers available in manufacturing today, right here in Chester County.”
These aren’t your father’s factories, he adds. “When people hear manufacturing, they think of the factories of the past — steel factories and the smokestack factories.” Today’s “clean rooms” are vastly different.
“People go by these buildings and have no idea what’s going on inside,” Slobojan said. “They look like office buildings, but they are manufacturing.” They’re making industrial parts and applications ranging from aeronautics to pharmaceuticals, he said.
Also unlike the factories of years past, they demand highly specialized technology and engineering skills. “By visiting these facilities, students see the types of jobs — applied engineering, web design, and also the sales and support jobs that require an understanding of how to communicate about that technology,” Slobojan said.
The business partnership program has shifted to the middle school so that parents and students can realize “the academic foundation needed for the jobs of the future,” he added.
Owen J. Roberts schools will be participating for the first time in the video contest with a team of eighth-grade students in a new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) introductory course.
Pairing career exploration with STEAM courses fits with the district’s careers strategy, explained OJR Middle School Principal Sean Burns. “Students get an idea of what is out there in the workplace from a career standpoint” so they can choose the study path that fits their goals, he said.
“Too often, we put everything in the same round holes of going to a twoor four-year college,” said Burns. “By seeing what the jobs are, students can start now to prepare for a tech school route versus college readiness” if that’s what they are interested in.
“The STEM industries are the ones that will be hiring in the next 10 years,” added Jen Armstrong, who teaches the 8th grade STEAM elective. For students to see what local industries are doing and what kinds of skills are needed is a phenomenal experience, she added.
“It’s not how much education you have, but the kind of skills you have to fit into the workplace of the future,” said Slobojan. “Manufacturing is an important part of the vibrant economy in Chester County and there is a growing need for highly skilled workers,” he said, adding that many firms have an aging work force that will need to be replaced in the next decade.
The video contest is one aspect of careers introduction at the middle school level. But introducing careers awareness is beginning much sooner, as early as kindergarten. At a recent OJR School Board meeting, Director of Pupil Services Holly Acosta explained a requirement called Chapter 339 mandates a guidance plan for districts beginning at the elementary level.
At OJR, the plan starts in the elementary grades with introduction to jobs and what adults do at work and continues in middle school with business partnerships and the STEAM teaching module. The goal is to help students determine the courses they should take for their career choices as they enter high school.
Participation in the county video project will involve five to seven students going into a local business to film and record, but the entire STEAM class will participate in editing and writing so that everyone benefits, Armstrong explained.
Businesses benefit from the partnerships as well, Slobojan said. “We want students who go away to school to bring their skills back here,” he said. “These programs are to let parents and students know how to prepare for jobs in manufacturing right here in Chester County.”
He added, “This fits with the national conversation about bringing jobs back to the U.S. We’ve had companies right here in Chester County that have brought manufacturing back from China, back from South Carolina. This is a very exciting time.”
Exciting for students, too, Burns noted. “We want to insure that we’re not closing any doors but rather opening new ones right in front of them.” The go-to-college route is still important, but it may not be for everyone, he added. These programs “show students the different routes and options they can take.”
Owen J. Roberts High School students visit Omega Design Corp. in Uwchlan in 2014 to learn about careers in manufacturing. Omega Design set up a series of stations for small groups of students to learn about the people and jobs that make up each department as well as the skills, training, daily tasks and other requirements of the employees.
Owen J. Roberts High School students visit Omega Design Corp. in Uwchlan in 2014 to learn about careers in manufacturing.