I’ve heard a lot about how the current crop of young people are entitled, lazy, and unprepared for a rapidly changing employment landscape - where competition from millions of technically skilled foreign workers will bring about the end of the American middle class. Pretty scary stuff! On a recent trip to Penn High School in Mishawaka, IN, however, I met a group of super smart, highly engaged high school students learning technical skills and applying them directly to projects with a proficiency I could have only dreamed about at their age. Due to the school’s difficult curriculum, these kids will be able to land a job immediately after leaving high school, with or without a college education, and make some serious coin. In the immortal words of The Who, “The Kids Are Alright!”
I traveled out to Mishawaka for Making College Work Night, an event co-sponsored by AMT, local manufacturing companies, and various educational institutions. We brought the IMTS Rally Fighter to drum up excitement about the event and draw attention to the diverse careers available in the manufacturing technology industry. As a group of students from the STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Math) Academy were helping me roll the car down the hall, I got word that they were building a ladder climbing, Frisbee throwing robot. Being an avid disc tosser since high school, I was intrigued and grabbed my video camera to get a closer look.
As I entered the STEM wing of the high school I was immediately impressed by all of the resources these students had at their disposal. Everywhere I looked there were fully loaded Macs and PCs running CAD software. Adjacent to the classrooms was a fully equipped fabrication shop loaded with machine tools, welding gear, and soldering stations. It was a different level than the physics classrooms I remember in high school, containing a few oscilloscopes and some scales.
After a day of interviews, trust me when I say the future is in very good hands. The students I met were a cut above the rest and destined to kick some serious butt in life. Everybody I spoke with was extremely knowledgeable, and I found myself struggling to just keep up, much less ask an intelligent follow-up question that didn’t let on I had no idea what they were talking about. I can’t imagine where I would be if my high school had those kind of resources and pushed me to experiment with different skill sets before deciding what I wanted to do in college and with the rest of my life.
Penn High School is stepping up and providing its students with the technical skills and knowledge they need to get good paying jobs straight out of high school and succeed in an increasingly competitive and global workplace. The future success of the manufacturing industry in the U.S. depends on providing upcoming generations with the skills and knowledge they need to compete and build solutions. Penn High School is a shining example of how to accomplish just that.
Watch the video below for interviews with Penn High School students and teachers as well as a demonstration of their ultimate ascent robot.