Educating the next generation

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The manufacturing industry needs young minds with fresh ideas, but many high schools typically don’t have this sector on its radar as an option for career planning.

In Belleville, ON, two secondary schools are bucking that trend. Students who attend Centennial Secondary and Quinte Secondary have the option of taking manufacturing technology courses starting in grade 10 through to grade 12.

At Quinte, which hosted a Manufacturing Open House in June this year to showcase its manufacturing facility and programs, students have the option of taking nine different manufacturing courses, including a two-credit Manufacturing Focus program with a Dual Credit college course, and a Specialist High Skills Major. This latter program is part of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Student Success initiative and enables students to gain sector-specific skills.

At Centennial, students can take a grade 10 Manufacturing Technology course and grade 11 and 12 Manufacturing Engineering Technology college prep courses. The high school also runs a co-op program and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program for a variety of skilled trades.

Michael Burns teaches the manufacturing technology courses for grade 10, 11 and 12 at Centennial. An engineer with a Bachelor of Education, he says manufacturing wasn’t even on his mind when he attended teacher’s college.

“I had never thought of technological education as an option. Half way through teachers college I became away of the manufacturing programs, took additional courses to update my knowledge and when the opening here became available, I came to teach the manufacturing technology course.”

Class sizes range from 15 to 22 students. Since the course is optional, most of the students taking it have an interest or are at least curious about manufacturing and the possible career options it represents, says Burns.

The shop is comprised of a vertical mill, lathes, a drill press, a three axis machine Burns and his students built themselves, a plasma cutting machine, saws and welding equipment.

“I would love to get more CNC machinery in here. We use MasterCAM and SolidWorks for designing parts for projects. We’re currently building guitars. I tell my students that we can build anything but you need the right design.”

One of the students enrolled in the manufacturing program is Patrick Thompson, a grade 10 student [full disclosure: he’s my nephew]. He’s starting to give more thought to what he’s going to do once he leaves high school and was curious about the manufacturing program.

“It sounded interesting and I wanted to learn more because I didn’t know much about manufacturing. The course has given me a lot of basic knowledge I can use in the future as an adult.”

He’s also enjoyed making things, including a screwdriver.

“He did an excellent job with it. Getting students to focus on the finishing steps is a challenge sometimes, but Patrick did a good job.”

The screwdriver is now on display in a glass cabinet in the hall, just outside the manufacturing shop. Burns says he likes to display projects manufactured in the shop to give students a better idea of what students can do in his course.

“This program is a critical entry point into the manufacturing sector. If students haven’t had exposure to manufacturing or have misconceptions about it, this is the opportunity that gets them thinking about manufacturing as an option for a career choice. I always tell my students that the field of manufacturing is broad; from the shop floor to chief executive officer.”

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