Consortium Offers Head Start on Manufacturing Careers

by DR. RAYMOND C. GREEN, Superintendent Goodrich Area Schools Goodrich, Mich. A fledgling consortium of local school districts in Genesee County, Michigan, is attempting to revolutionize the way educators prepare students for the world of work that awaits them five to ten years from today. We know that systemic change is imperative if we are to meet the needs of both students and their future employers in manufacturing industries. The workplace has changed rapidly in the last decade, with little or no corresponding change in the way young people learn. Now is the time to act dramatically if we in public education are to keep our credibility. The Partnership and a Leader The consortium is called AMTEC (Agile Manufacturing Technology Education Consortium) and consists of the 21 local school districts in Genesee County, the regional educational service agency (Genesee Intermediate School District), Mott Community College, University of Michigan at Flint, G.M.I. Management Training Institute and Baker College. AMTEC is supported by the Flint Roundtable, General Motors, the Flint Area Chamber of Commerce and the Focus Council (an economic development organization). Funding and in-kind services have been provided by all of these independent organizations. The cooperative effort is unprecedented in our region and gives testimony to the high priority now given to developing more intense and sophisticated school-to-work career paths. Although there are other, similar efforts in the planning stages for the areas of financial services, allied health services and others, AMTEC specifically focuses on the needs of "agile manufacturing enterprises" of the 21st century. The industry advisory board for AMTEC is the Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing-International, Inc. (CAM-I). This non-profit research and development consortium counts among its members some of the largest, most powerful corporations in the country: B'eing, Chrysler Corp., Eastman Kodak, EDS, Ford, Grumman Aerospace, IBM, Northrop, Westinghouse and 38 others. We were able to acquire the expertise of this advisory board because one of our local "moving forces" is George Andrews, who serves on the educational advisory board for CAM-I. Andrews is a senior project engineer for manufacturing, benchmarking and strategy for General Motors North American Operations, and the father of a child attending a Goodrich school. His vision has pulled a variety of institutions toward a common goal. Agile Manufacturing CAM-I, through its educational advisory board, has given educators a vision of how they believe successful next-generation manufacturing organizations will have to function in the future in order to be world class and world competitive. They believe that "agility" and "total quality management" (TQM) are the concepts that will enable them to thrive. In the context of manufacturing, the word "agile" denotes the ability to rapidly change how work is done in order to efficiently produce goods in any size, quantity, location, specification and time needed by the customer. TQM denotes a commitment to continuous improvement in terms of both products and processes that enables the organization to meet or exceed the best practices on a worldwide basis. Workers of the Future How do these concepts translate into a description of characteristics that will be highly valued in employees of these agile manufacturing organizations? Employees will need to have all of the basic skills now highly valued -- in the sciences, math and languages -- plus sophisticated skills in the areas of electronic communications, computer use, technology adaptation and transfer, problem-solving, critical thinking, team building and decision making. In order to function well in a dynamic, group-based environment characterized by the formation and re-formation of interdisciplinary project teams, these workers will need to be able to see their roles in relation to the roles of others in the organization. Further, they must be willing and able to "re-tool" themselves -- to change their job descriptions and their skills to meet ever-changing demands. They will have to commit to the success of the organization and see it as a part of their own success. In addition, they will have to possess a wide range of technological expertise in design, manufacturing processes, manufacturing systems, organizational management, marketing and multimedia presentations. In short, they will need a toolbox of knowledge and higher-order skills never before imagined. Students of the Future In envisioning our "student of the future," we must imagine the exit outcomes that will coincide, as closely as possible, with the characteristics of the highly valued employee of the future. When we do this, several major conclusions become clear. First, we do not need to de-emphasize any of the "traditional" knowledge and skill areas. However, where these skills are not being attained at satisfactory rates, some process of intrinsically motivating students needs to be in place to dramatically improve the rate of learning. Students of the future need a higher level of knowledge and skill in core academic areas -- a higher level than ever before. Second, we do need to give much more attention than we have in the past to coursework that features practical applications of course content rather than the rote learning of facts, operations or theories. When learning is correlated to real-life situations in the workplace, home or elsewhere, we know retention is improved. We have known this for years, but have been slow to make it permeate our instructional strategies. Students of the future need to be able to apply what they know to real-world situations. And third, we also need to pay much more attention to "personal trait" types of skills. It is important that course material not only be learned, but that students engage in processes that enable them to establish effective life-long learning habits. How students interact with each other, with knowledge and skill-resource banks, and with retrieval/manipulation systems is as important or more important than what they know. This is the significant challenge we face in transforming educational institutions. Students of the future need to be able to use all of the technologies that multiply effectiveness, and they need life-long learning habits to keep them current with a rapidly changing world. Meeting the Challenge AMTEC is attempting to meet this challenge of creating an educational environment rich enough to enable students to grow in the ways necessary to be both highly valued employees and self-fulfilling people. Is AMTEC creating a new educational system for all students at all levels? No -- AMTEC is creating a rich elementary foundation in math, science and technology for all students, plus a specialized "academy" for students beginning in the sixth or seventh grade who start on a career path of manufacturing occupations. Students choosing this Manufacturing Careers Academy will receive coursework in applied math and science in specially created high-tech labs. They'll also be provided with experiences in the hands-on Technology Lab 2000/the SmartLab learning environment, which provides a wide variety of activities that integrate math, science, design, manufacturing and communication skills. Each year builds upon the previous year organizationally, with students moving at their own paces in regard to the depth and breadth of learning they are able to acquire. The sequence of courses is shown in Figure 1. While much of the curricula needed to implement the course sequences shown in Figure 1 are still being written, installation of the SmartLab 2000 and the overall project design are already complete at the pilot test site in Goodrich Area Schools, one of the 21 member districts of the consortium. Regional staff training and community-orientation activities are taking place so that the changes in the way we do the business of educating our students will be well received. The pilot class of eighth-grade students has already had an exceptional experience with the SmartLab. They have learned teamwork skills, group skills and problem-solving skills, and they have a hands-on, working knowledge of various technologies previously remote from their world. They have used all of their senses in working through the learning experiences provided by the lab, especially the kinesthetic sense. We hypothesize that the knowledge they attain in the SmartLab will be lasting. What is a SmartLab? Our SmartLab is a technology-based, integrated, interactive, reconfigurable lab with 15 work/learn stations contained in five furniture groupings -- called "islands" -- with two students assigned to each station. Each station offers a different type of apparatus and courseware designed to introduce students to a variety of subject areas and skills. Many of the learning opportunities in the SmartLab have specialized equipment and are computer driven; other lessons are not reliant on computers for their completion. Our particular lab is driven by networked Macintosh computers. SmartLab's TransTech islands (Figure 2), which are fed with electricity and compressed air, are divided by their topical focus. Every island is equipped with instructional apparatus and multimedia courseware for introductory study of the Elements (which includes Tools and Machines, Materials, Processes, Energy, Information and Humans) and in the Basic Skills of Technology. From this foundation, each island then provides thematically clustered learning-support systems. A brief synopsis follows: Transportation Technology Island: Learning here focuses on land, marine, air and space transportation technology. Topics include computerized system simulation, model rocketry, remote and computer control of vehicles, aerodynamic modeling, wind tunnel testing and computer-simulated vehicular design. Construction Technology Island: Activities include measurements of heat, light and seismography; structural stress testing; architectural design and drafting; plus modeling structural systems and human settlements. Communications Technology Island: This island provides skill development in word processing, computer-aided drawing and painting, imaging, graphic design, document processing, desktop publishing and telecommunications. Manufacturing Technology Island: Topics at this island include scientific measurement, electricity, electronics, pneumatics, computer interfacing, robotics, workpiece control, product design, CAD, CAM, modeling and plant layout. Fabrication and Prototyping Island: This island provides fabrication materials and instructions for creating 3D modular wall-display systems to portray the laboratory program and showcase student accomplishments. Laser Exploration System: This system has instructional apparatus and materials for studying laser technology, voice transmission, fiber optics and holography. Mini-Studio Zone: In this instructional setting, two to three students can engage in agile audio/visual production. In one area is an overhead grid from which photographic apparatus may be suspended. Attached to the grid by quick-connectors are rolls of photographic background paper, lights and a reflector umbrella. Equipment includes a VHS camera/recorder, a tripod dolly for the camcorder and microphones. Experimental Structures Kit Collection: This is a collection of instructional kits containing components for the creation of human-scale experimental structures such as space frames, geodesic structures and flexible membrane structures. Technolorium: This area, which resembles an interactive museum, celebrates the concept of "student-as-resource" by showcasing student work to peers and lab visitors. Here student-constructed displays incorporate SmartLab structural components and panels, which may be suspended from the overhead grid. Tabletop Hydroponic Greenhouse Collection: This is a laboratory station for the study of agricultural technology and is outfitted with framework-mounted, mini-hydroponic greenhouses; plant food, grow lights and courseware are supplied. Resource Library w/ Mobile Storage System: This mobile research station provides just-in-time access to supportive multimedia resources. These include CD-ROM databases, a videodisc collection, simulation software, structured group-discussion guides and reference books. Impact D'es the SmartLab provide all of the relevant experiences needed by students preparing for the manufacturing careers of the future? No. It is only one part of a much more comprehensive program designed for those middle- and high-school students who choose this career path. However, learning-support systems in the SmartLab give students a chance to be both physically and mentally immersed in a wide variety of learning opportunities not available elsewhere. These opportunities include interdisciplinary-team projects -- such as the challenge to design a remote-controlled system for handling hazardous materials -- that draw on earlier learnings from many different technological perspectives. In addition, the approach requires students to develop personal learning styles that innately boost their ability to be life-long learners as well as effective co-learners with partners and in groups. An incidental, but not insignificant, impact is the major role change that a SmartLab creates for the teacher. For example, all teachers trained in our Goodrich lab have experienced a major transformation -- their new role can be described as facilitator, coach, supporter or guide. On this level, the quality of interpersonal relations between teacher and student is greatly enhanced. Expansion of the Concept AMTEC is planning to incorporate into its program two more labs using the general SmartLab 2000 concept. The first, called the CyberCenter, would serve the elementary-school level and thus precede the middle-school lab. The second, called SmartLab 2006, would serve the high-school level with simulations of 21st century agile-manufacturing activities in virtual-corporation contexts. The AMTEC project calls for all elementary students to have a common background of technological literacy with progressively more specialized programming for students who follow the manufacturing career path. AMTEC's project design has a sequence of coursework beginning in the elementary school. However, it is possible to elect into, or out of, the program at practically any time. The program for those electing it early is transferable to any other field of study requiring an intensive math, science and technology background. Entering late would mean arriving without some of the background that other students have; however, real value is still gained. Many "Believers" Parents, students and staff are universally enthusiastic about our AMTEC project design and the SmartLab 2000 installation. Moreover, the business community has given its wholehearted endorsement. The Flint Roundtable has recommended and expedited a $59,000 General Motors grant to fund the teacher training and curriculum development work being done during this pilot project. The Tech-Prep Consortium, consisting of GISD, Mott College and 21 LEAs, has also awarded a $10,000 grant for interdisciplinary-curriculum development and dissemination throughout the AMTEC consortium. The SmartLab 2000 as configured in Goodrich costs about $130,000, with an additional $30,000 needed for computer support. Room renovations can run as high as $10,000 for compressed air, electrical wiring, carpeting and chairs for student stations. However, when compared with $170,000 worth of program improvements we normally would experience, the giant step forward is worth every penny. Raymond Green, superintendent of Goodrich Area Schools for 13 years, has also been a high school principal, assistant principal, counselor and teacher. Long committed to relationships between business and education, he has chaired the Business and Education Coordinating Council in Genesee County for ten years and is Chair-elect of the Flint Area Chamber of Commerce. Gail Quinn, a consultant specializing in industry/school partnerships, is facilitating and documenting the AMTEC program-design process. The SmartLab 2000 and other products highlighted in this article are offered by Creative Learning Systems, Inc., located in San Diego, Calif.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.