Participants in MHI’s Annual Executive Summit, held in Orlando last October 2018, were invited to meet and observe the talents of a potential labor force many had yet to consider as future employees. In a presentation from Don Bossi, President of non-profit FIRST, attendees were encouraged to start thinking as young as kindergarten and elementary school. That’s what FIRST already does, actively engaging kindergartners through high schoolers through mentor-based research and team-based robotics competitions that aim to build upon their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
Bossi spoke with MHI Solutions in “Fostering a Culture of Innovation, Self-Disruption, Creativity,” an article included in the fourth quarter 2018 issue. In it, he shares ideas for supply chain leaders seeking to nurture a future workforce by building relationships with these impressionable students today.
“As technology changes continuously, the workforce of the future is going to need to be able to draw upon the types of skills that enable them to be flexible, adaptable, life-long learners,” he says. “Not only does their experience on FIRST robotics teams make them technically proficient, but they also learn to collaborate, communicate and work with others to solve problems.”
In addition to Bossi’s comments, the article also includes thoughts from a mentor and two students on the Orlando-area’s 4-H Exploding Bacon Robotics Team 1902. This FIRST Robotics team was showcased during the Executive Summit, interacting with participants and demonstrating some of their recent robotics projects.
Exploding Bacon’s current team lead mentor Elise Cronin-Hurley says that she’s a perfect example of the fact that FIRST mentors don’t have to have engineering or mechanical backgrounds, although many do. “Given our location in Orlando, we’ve had mentors from the Disney and Universal theme parks, EA Sports, Siemens, as well as from Lockheed Martin, our biggest sponsor. Other teams in our region are sponsored by NASA, and of course by other companies large and small as well,” she adds.
“Our team is currently mentored by several alumni of FIRST. Nearly all are college students with years and years of experience building robots for FIRST competitions,” she says. “Their participation gives the high schoolers the perspective that they can translate their interests and skills into a college degree. Likewise, the relationships they build with professional mentors show them a career path that they can see themselves taking.”
Seeing how the subjects they study in school translate into jobs and projects in the real world is an important benefit of participating in FIRST, say high school sophomore Nicholas Sardinia and high school senior Ruhi Lankalapalli. The pair serve as Exploding Bacon’s co-presidents for the 2018-2019 school year.
Lankalapalli, who started her FIRST tenure in an elementary level FIRST LEGO® League team, notes that although her high school offers STEM classes—such as calculus and physics—taking tests doesn’t equate to applying textbook learning to real-life applications.
“With Exploding Bacon, I go right after school to robotics and use exactly what I learned that day in school when, for example, I’m determining how does this circuit board work, or why I should write a program this way versus another way,” she explains.
Both Lankalapalli and Sardinia firmly believe that the FIRST program creates a pipeline for industries like supply chain. Not only were they eager to show MHI Executive Summit attendees what students at their level are capable of by demonstrating the team’s robots, they were also keen to hear how to transfer their skills to jobs within the industry from the people who are a part of it. Both also hoped to recruit more professional mentors and corporate sponsors to engage with FIRST robotics teams nationwide.
“All of the mentors are really integral and impactful,” Sardinia explains. “Whether they’re involved for a day or for years, it makes a difference. That’s because the mentors do most of the teaching, as 90% of the students just starting out on a team don’t know how to take their classroom learning and apply it to the project.”
Bossi says that companies who sponsor teams and support their employees’ involvement in mentorship roles also gain more than just access to a potential pipeline of future workers.
“Employee engagement goes up because they are proud their employer supports this kind of activity, feel good about what their company stands for, and are more enthusiastic at work. They also get a chance to apply their area of expertise in a new and different way, and to learn from the students. Truly, working with kids is the closest thing you will find to the fountain of youth,” he says. “And, it’s the only sport where every kid can go pro.”