MFG Advocate …

Connecting with the next generation of makers

By  Penny Brown, MTAdvocacy Manager

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2015 FIRST World Championship in St. Louis as part of AMT’s Smartforce team. No, I didn’t help build a robot. I was there to talk to students, parents and teachers about manufacturing careers. If I wanted to see some promising young minds in action, I was in the right place!

You may have seen FIRST at the Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS last September. While the organization is best known for its robotics competition for grades 9-12, there is also the FIRST Tech Challenge for grades 7-12, the FIRST LEGO League for grades 4-8, and the Junior FIRST LEGO League for grades K-3. An acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, FIRST was founded by American entrepreneur Dean Kamen in 1989. Kamen is recognized for inventing the Segway, among other things.

Knowing only the basics about FIRST before I arrived, I was amazed at the depth of the program. It isn’t just about building the best robot. The teams are also judged on their professionalism, outreach and spirit. They learn about things like marketing, collaboration, community and the financial aspects of running a business. The results are obvious when you meet these kids. They weren’t just super smart; they were also polite, respectful and incredibly well spoken!

Perhaps most heartening of all was how receptive they were to hearing our message about careers in manufacturing. They want jobs that are hands-on, creative and technologically advanced. Many of them had some level of knowledge or experience with manufacturing already.  

But here’s the thing – running a FIRST team takes time and money, and each one relies heavily on volunteers and corporate sponsorships to help them with costs associated with competing – from gathering resources and creating their business plans to building their technologies and traveling to competitions. 

This is where AMT members can help. Are you looking for additional ways you can help build the manufacturing Smartforce? Do you want to teach young people about manufacturing, educate them on your technology, or maybe even grow them as potential future employees? The FIRST programs in your area are a great place to start. Even a small sponsorship can mean a lot to fledgling teams.

To find out more about the program, events and what teams are in your area, visit www.usfirst.org and go to the Community tab. Who knows, it might just be the start of a beautiful friendship!

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Contact me at pbrown@AMTonline.org, and follow me on Twitter - @penelopemb.