Monday, September 08, 2014
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Before this summer, Tawny Tharp had never set foot in a manufacturing plant.
Why would she? As a teacher at South Range Elementary School, her day is devoted to developing lesson plans, creating new learning strategies, and working to lift her third graders to higher proficiencies in subjects such as math, reading and science. Welding torches aren’t part of her curricula.
This summer though, Tharp found herself on the factory floor, dressed in coveralls and a welding torch in her hand, as she explored the fundamentals of a career in manufacturing.
“I came in knowing nothing,” Tharp remarks. “I walked away feeling so enlightened. My eyes have been opened to the world of manufacturing.”
Tharp was among 25 teachers from the Mahoning Valley who participated in this year’s Educator in the Manufacturing Workplace program, sponsored by the Oh-Penn Pathways to Competitiveness. The objective of the program is to introduce the environment and craft of manufacturing to teachers who wouldn’t normally be exposed to modern factories or production methods. The goal then is to have these teachers integrate their experiences into their lessons.
“I want to take what I’ve learned back to my classroom and share with my 8- and 9-year-old third-graders that their schoolwork is getting them ready for the future,” Tharp says.
Teachers of all disciplines and backgrounds were required to spend 32 hours with a host manufacturer, most of them in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Each of the 25 participants was charged with creating a lesson plan, based on the plant that each visited, that incorporated some aspect of manufacturing or engineering. These lesson plans are published and shared with other teachers.
In Tharp’s case, she visited Columbiana Boiler Co. LLC, a company founded in 1894 to manufacture boilers but today produces large kettle containers and pressure vessels.
“I found out that Columbiana Boiler is one of two places in the world that make these kettles,” Tharp reports. The term “kettle” is misleading – these are large, heavy steel-fabricated bins – the largest of which was a 310,000-pound container the company built in the 1990s.
A critical takeaway from the experience was Tharp’s realization that students need to be prepared in many of the soft skills essential to doing business, such as effective communication and teamwork. Also, today’s factory floor requires much more input and innovation from those who work the lathes, milling machines and welding torches. These also command considerable attention and proficiency in math, measurements and science.
Based on her experience, Tharp wrote a lesson plan that focuses on precise measurements, a discipline her third-graders would be able to understand. Her idea is for the class to cut and construct model kettles and then measure them for accuracy by U.S. and metric standards.
“I felt that the measuring end with how much measuring is done in the manufacturing workplace is necessary for my third-graders to know,” she says. “With really being able to build the foundation and have a solid understanding and know what they’re doing, it will carry on with them through their schooling.”
Among the other manufacturers that hosted these teachers are Gasser Chair Co., Youngstown; Taylor-Winfield Technologies, Youngstown; BOC Water Hydraulics, Salem; Specialty Fab Co., North Lima; General Motors Co.’s Lordstown Complex; Starr Manufacturing, Vienna; Thomas Steel Strip Corp., Warren; Ajax Tocco Magnethermic, Warren; America Makes, Youngstown; and Butech Bliss in Salem.
All of these educators agree that today’s worker needs to be proficient in math, as well as an ability to interpret blueprint drawings and other technical materials.
Lisa Perry, a teacher in the Youngstown City School District, often comes across students who say that they feel like failures. “My take is that everyone can do something productive,” she says.
Perry spent her 32 hours at Specialty Fab and experienced firsthand how rewarding a job in manufacturing could be. “I spoke to a welder who told me it was the best job he ever had,” she says.
What struck Perry most about the employees at Specialty Fab was the intense pride they take in their jobs. “What makes you fired up about going to work?” she asked employees.
“The finished product,” they answered.
That’s precisely the type of can-do spirit she wants to infuse into her classroom and impress on her students. “I want them to understand that by the end of the day, I could do that,” she says.
The Educator in the Manufacturing Workplace program has been in Pennsylvania nearly 20 years, but this is just its second year in Ohio, notes Paula McMillin, program coordinator.
“The whole objective of the program is to have educators out into our local employers, specifically in manufacturing, to learn about the types of occupations, skills, education, and training that’s required to be eligible for these positions,” McMillin says.
Educators then share what they learn with their students and other teachers. “Parents, teachers and students all really get to learn about these things,” McMillan says. “Then, we get to keep the talent here locally and grow our economy.”
Building a pipeline of new talent to industry is vital to fueling growth in the regional economy, McMillin says. Local manufacturers have a difficult time filling skilled positions as many of their older workers retire.
“The ability to measure, the math involved, and the precision and attention to detail” are all among the skills required for a career in manufacturing today, McMillin adds.
While most teachers in the program witnessed for the first time how traditional manufacturing processes work, others caught a glimpse of what might very well be the future of these processes.
For example, Steve Bennett, a programming and information technology instructor at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, visited America Makes: The Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown.
“I looked at it because I have students graduating in programming and computer science,” Bennett says. “This marries the design side and I find that this would give them another vehicle to get them employed.”
America Makes is the first of the Obama administration’s advanced manufacturing hubs geared toward facilitating research and development in a specific discipline, in this case 3-D printing. The process takes an object designed on a software program and builds it layer-by-layer through a 3-D printer.
Students in Bennett’s classes can now establish a direct connection to what is designed on software and what is produced. “This gives them another avenue on the design side that I haven’t really developed yet,” he says. “They think through the design and how the machine interprets what you do.”
Additive manufacturing, he says, is a “game changer” that points manufacturing in an entirely new direction. “I am amazed what you’re able to do, the materials that you’re able to use to create not only plastics but metal products,” he says.
Students today are creative, Bennett says, and additive manufacturing is a process that allows for a combination of virtual design and finished product, all before the eyes of the producer.
“I can see this as something they could be very excited about,” Bennett remarks. “We live in a very virtual world in programming where it’s just between our ears. This is something that’s hard and fast and in your hands.”
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.