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Emily Wagner, a counselor at South Williamsport Area Junior/Senior High School, works on building a robotic arm during the recent Manufacturing Externship Camp at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Williamsport, Pa. -- The word "manufacturing" often conjures up unpleasant images of unsafe and outdated factories and sweatshops, but Pennsylvania College of Technology and the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education program are hoping to change that image.

As part of the effort, Penn College recently "manufactured" a week-long educational experience for 13 high school teachers and school counselors throughout the state.

The Manufacturing Externship Camp showed the 13 educators the modern realities of manufacturing careers through several activities, including a robot-building activity that they can re-create as a student activity. 

“Many teachers and counselors are unaware of the types of careers available in advanced manufacturing,” said Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “The goal is to show these folks what machinists and manufacturing engineers do on a daily basis, so they can have better conversations with students and parents about these quality careers.”

A study conducted by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute estimates that there will be more than four million manufacturing jobs to fill through 2028.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, the average U.S. manufacturing worker earned $87,185, including benefits.

“Manufacturing jobs are essential for the economic health of the country,” Webb said. “Currently, we don’t have enough students in the pipeline to fill those important positions.”

Webb led the camp with Richard K. Hendricks, Jr., instructor of automated manufacturing and machining, and Eric K. Albert, associate professor of automated manufacturing and machining.

Krishna C. Vistarakula, instructor of automated manufacturing and machining; Paul W. Albright, instructor of manufacturing engineering technology; John M. Good III, instructor of automated manufacturing and machining; and manufacturing engineering technology student Joshua A. Sweeney, of Muncy, provided instructional assistance throughout the week.

“I think we have opened the teachers’ eyes to the good jobs available in manufacturing,” Albert said. “The teachers and counselors have seemed very interested, and I’ve heard them say how much they are learning.”

“I’ve been aware of the demands in manufacturing but haven’t been sure how to talk about it with kids,” said Emily Wagner, a counselor at South Williamsport Area Junior/Senior High School. “This has provided a good opportunity to experience manufacturing and machining and speak with those who teach in those areas, so I can better promote the industry as a career choice.”

Camp sessions included 3D printing, computer-aided design, computer-numerical-control machines, and robotics. Participants were exposed to modern production facilities through an on-site tour of PMF Industries Inc., a premier flow-forming manufacturer, and a virtual tour of Lycoming Engines, a prominent manufacturer of aircraft engines.

The educators’ hands-on exercise required them to build a robotic arm using several 3D-printed parts. They used a CNC milling machine to manufacture the robot’s aluminum base before relying on CAD documents to assemble the actual arm. The teachers employed Windows software to program the robot – a scaled down version of an actual industrial robot – to pick up a metal ball.

The exercise can serve as a manufacturing module for the educators at their home schools.

“I might be teaching a programming class this year. If I do, I want to use this project as part of that class,” said Jesse Heath, a math and physics teacher at Upper Dauphin Area High School, who seemed at ease building his robot.

For Wagner, the project proved to be a bit of a struggle. “It’s testing my patience,” she said with a smile. “I’m not used to spending time doing something like this. It makes me appreciate the people who have a passion for doing this.”

Mark Wydareny teaches English at Blairsville Middle-High School but is passionate about discussing the skilled trades with students during his career unit. The camp solidified his commitment to the subject.

“There are a lot of opportunities in the skilled trades, but it’s a struggle getting that message through to not only the kids but also their parents and fellow teachers,” he said. “I’ve had kids get excited about the possibility and then the next day either their parents or another teacher takes the wind out of their sails. I’m definitely going to continue to sell them on the skilled trades.”

“Unfortunately, ‘manufacturing’ is a dirty word for many people,” Webb said. “By showing the high-tech equipment, advanced skills, and clean work environments that characterize today’s manufacturing, we hope to change people’s minds about that.”

Albert is optimistic the educators who attended the camp will be successful doing that.

“I’m sure they will inspire some students to consider the manufacturing career path,” he said.

This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.