Focus on the Workforce: STIHL Uses Clock-Making Contest to Lure Manufacturers of the Future
By Simon Nance
Manager, Training & Development
STIHL transformed the concept of summer camp in July, turning the school break into a manufacturing lesson for more than 30 high school sophomores and juniors.
In turn, the global power tool giant helped expose the group to new concepts that might inspire many to pursue a career in manufacturing.
The camp, held in the Virginia Beach area, which serves as the company’s US operations base, was actually a manufacturing competition between five teams of carefully pre-selected kids. STIHL is calling the event its “First Annual Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp.”
Five student teams, each led by a volunteer coach and a team assistant, spent three and half days preparing for and working in the clock-making competition.
On the first day, each group spent time building their team and constructing, programming and testing a three-axis CNC engraving mill. On the second day, team members learned a number of manufacturing operations from drilling to tapping to painting to assembly. They were also given materials to construct prototypes of three different clocks. On day three, production requirements were given to the teams, as well as a schedule for shared resources, such as a drill press and a paint booth. Teams needed to create a balanced production plan for the two-hour competition on the following day.
Day Four was the competition. The two-hour manufacturing competition started with raw materials for 20 clocks on each team and an innovation challenge. Just as the teams were about to start churning out clocks, they learned that all the machinery on the shop floor had been reset overnight. They were told that OSHA had come in overnight and reset each and every machine because they had not been operating up to federal standards. The teams had to make adjustments on the fly—just like real life.
Each team was evaluated based on production efficiency, inventory management, quality standards and innovative thinking. The contest ended with three teams completing the production requirement and one team being judged the winner.
Students from the winning team will receive scholarship money for an academic degree or an industry certification through the Virginia Manufacturers Association’s educational foundation. Schools represented by the winning students will also have the opportunity to receive startup kits from Virginia FIRST Robotics.
A total of 16 trade associations, trade schools, professional organizations and vendors participated in some way, not to mention the teachers and STIHL employees who served as volunteers.
Overall, the program was a great success. Participants and volunteers rated the overall event quality, benefit, and satisfaction as 4.73 on a 5-point scale. It took the judges nearly 30 minutes to decide among the top three teams—a sure sign that students were engaged and dedicated in their efforts. Aside from the scholarship and school prize, students on the winning team got a new perspective on what it takes to be successful in a manufacturing business. Perhaps, the greatest prize for all of the teams may have been the experience itself—getting a true sense of what real modern manufacturing is about.
Local television station WVEC-TV, an ABC affiliate, quoted several participants saying manufacturing was cooler than its image might suggest.
Morgan Alberse of Landstown High School told the TV station she thinks manufacturing sort of gets a bum rap. “Yeah, because a lot of people don’t think it’s clean and awesome as it really is. We took a tour today and it’s really, really organized,” added Alberse.
James Conley, a freshman at Kellam High School added that he was learning “the skills to be a manufacturer when you grow up …the skills to be able to go out in the real world and get a job.”
Parents also expressed gratitude about the program, and at least one remarked that they had no idea this was what manufacturing was really about.
“I must say that I am very impressed with everything your company is doing, both with this camp, and from a corporate perspective,” said parent Brenda Lamb.
“Thank you for providing Adam and his fellow campers with an amazing experience last week! It was fascinating and inspiring to watch the kids as they worked on their projects; worked in teams; and worked through the roadblocks that presented themselves along the way. My husband and I (both mechanical engineers) were equally impressed … I hope that you will continue the camp program in the future. I’m sure you know what a challenge it is to interest 15- and 16-year-olds in ANYTHING that doesn’t appear in a digital form. And so the fact that they were all there, all working together, and all feeling great about themselves and their teams, speaks volumes,” Amy Zelenka wrote to STIHL.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am that STIHL is putting on this program. As a local business owner, it is very difficult to find good people with technical skills and a clear understanding of what it takes to work as a team, to think about ‘the process of production’ … My son Perry came home yesterday with a profound respect for STIHL and what your company has accomplished. Moreover, he is excited about a future in industrial engineering as he is particularly mechanical and computer oriented. My thanks to STIHL and all involved in this most worthwhile program,” said Robert Bloch.
Teachers were a key part of the program’s success. STIHL worked with the educators for over a year in advance, staging a dry run in the summer of 2010, which gave teachers and school administrators a chance to experience the program before the students would the following year. STIHL also spent much time researching, targeting and working with key local teachers prior to the initiative. STIHL considers it important to reach out to those teaching professionals who help shape the career paths and aspirations of young people.
Today, teachers have often suggested to kids that they might want to become a doctor or lawyer. We want them to say the same thing about a career in manufacturing, and the STIHL Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp was a step in the right direction. ME
This article was first published in the February 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.