Additional STEM East Region articles:
CHERRY POINT, NC – “I had to live in
Marshallberg. It was just that simple,” exclaimed
Ramsey Davis, an engineer for Fleet Readiness
Center East in nearby Cherry Point, NC. “I’m the
14th generation in Marshallberg. My youngsters
are the 15th generation.”
Davis traces his lineage through generations
of boat builders in the small coastal North
Carolina town. He grew up in a boathouse,
learning the ins and outs of structures.
Employees like Davis who have both
advanced skills and deep local roots are
immensely valuable to a region’s economy.
This is particularly true in locales far from
metropolitan centers, which tend to be filled
with attractions and incentives that draw
Increasingly, educators and industry leaders
are learning to work together to build schools-to-careers pipelines that develop and retain
regionally tailored workforces. This is exactly
the kind of crossover that North Carolina’s
STEM East network was designed to foster.
But getting the fine details of the pipeline
right isn’t just a networking matter; it’s also an
engineering problem. No doubt this is why
two regional employers with rich pools of
engineering knowledge – FRC East and Hyster-Yale – have been so impactful.
STEM INVESTMENT NOW PAYS DIVIDENDS LATER
FRC East employs about 850 engineers in its mission to maintain and modify
Navy and Marine Corps vertical lift aircraft. Research and Engineering Group
Head Mark Meno has given much thought to ways the organization can offset
attrition by hiring locally.
He has determined there is a need of about 50 engineers a year. But not just
any 50. “I need 50 that want to stay here. . . . And the most likely population of 50
that want to stay here are the 50 that are already here.”
The key, FRC East suspected, was to appeal to regional students. So far, research
has born this out. A survey of new hires asking what drew them to the company
revealed that after internships, the second most influential factor was exposure
through middle school engineering camps supported by the company years before.
“The yield we get from our investment in recruiting fairs and related efforts – even
at our target engineering schools with whom we are strong employer partners –
pales in comparison to what we get from our local interactions,” said Meno.
Along with engineering camps at the middle school level, FRC East prompted
an arrangement in which North Carolina State University would offer a satellite
engineering degree program on the campus of nearby Craven Community
College. Davis is one of the program’s early graduates.
According to Meno, his company expects a significant upsurge of local
applicants with engineering degrees in the next few years. This is because
students originally exposed to STEM in the middle schools are at last beginning
Additionally, the investment in tuition for local talent, resulting in an increase
in retention and reduced costs to train them when they come on board, actually
results in a savings of approximately $10,000 per local engineering hire when
compared to a traditional candidate.
Pitsco’s STEM curriculum is part of this picture. Present in numerous
middle schools throughout the STEM East region, curricula such as the STEM
Expeditions® emphasize hard science knowledge through hands-on learning
and real-world application. According to Meno, who has visited Pitsco labs, this
approach fosters interest well.
“The point of the activities in the Pitsco way of
learning seems to hit the kids and say, ‘I can do this,
and this is cool.’ So now we’ve got them excited.”
THE SOFT-SKILLS ADVANTAGE
In Greenville, a bit further inland, engineering
heads at forklift manufacturer Hyster-Yale were
developing a similar line of thought: millennials are
essential to the company’s future. The company
began bringing student tours to their facility to
educate them about day-to-day work processes.
Company reps visited classrooms as well, both in
person and through online video conferencing.
According to Wayne Washington, HR
manager for the company’s engineering
group, this kind of exposure has many pluses.
“It benefits the child for one, because they are
more educated and ready when they come
out to actually work here or any organization
they decide to work at. It benefits the economy
because we have a more educated workforce,
and that’s just a trickle-down effect for the
whole. It’s an ecosystem.”
According to Washington, overcoming the
silos that naturally develop in an organization is
key to improving performance. The team-based
approach promoted by Pitsco Expeditions
emphasizes collaboration and knowledge
sharing among students. These 21st-century
skills are intentionally written into the design
of the curricula in response to the needs
described by employers. There is a growing
awareness that our collective economic future
depends on the cultivation of these skills.
“You have to be collaborative,” said Washington.
“You have to be in a team-based setting. It’s not
just me, me, me; it’s we, we, we. It’s very project
driven. These soft skills have to be developed for
us to survive 2020 and beyond.”
Mobile Fab Lab furthers students’
hands-on engineering experiences
FRC East has taken a multitiered approach to spreading
STEM knowledge and enthusiasm among students in the
region. One tool for this mission is the Fab Lab, or mobile
fabrication lab. The lab, housed in a trailer that is driven from
school to school, is equipped with scanners, 3-D printers,
laser cutters, laptops with design software, and more. The
goal was to give students the opportunity to take their
school engineering projects to the next level, inspiring them
to think about building prototypes.
Regional teachers were invited to tour the lab. Afterward,
they created lesson plans that utilized the lab’s resources.
The lab visits schools for as long as a week, and students
make extensive use of it. In cases where a teacher might not
have a clear vision for a project, Randall Lewis, an electrical
engineer with FRC East and the manager of the Fab Lab, has
created projects for students.
Teachers have been quite innovative, however. Several
have used the Fab Lab in conjunction with Pitsco curricula.
One such project involved enhancing water bottle rockets.
“The kids came into the lab and were able to 3-D print or laser
cut fins for the rockets,” said Lewis. Pitsco CO2 dragsters also
had a turn in the lab. “We used the Fab Lab to cut out the
shapes on the bandsaw. . . . And then we use the drill press to
drill the axle hole so we could get it perfectly straight.”
Engineers agree: There’s no substitute for hands-on education