The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) is asking people to tap their skills and wallets to help foster the right talent as manufacturers adapt to the latest innovative technologies and best practices.
Most of the manufacturing leaders of tomorrow are not being scouted from Ivy League campuses, honors classes, or word of mouth. The contenders being watched today by some of the biggest manufacturing companies in New Jersey are taking notes on the sidelines during an edgy youth sports competition combining technology and science — FIRST Robotics.
NJMEP supports FIRST MidAtlantic Robotics through the Manufacturing Cares program as a way to bring the manufacturing community together with up and coming engineers and manufacturers. A competitive sport combining science and technology, NJMEP actively supports the Mid-Atlantic region of FIRST Robotics through the Team Eagle Foundation.
NJMEP is matching 100% of donations to FIRST Robotics Team Eagle Foundation up to $20,000, said Michael Womack, NJMEP Marketing & Communications Manager, adding that workforce development is an important focus for the organization as the manufacturing industry continues adjusting to and finding ways to leverage technological disruptions.
Members and staff of NJMEP also support FIRST MidAtlantic Robotics by serving as volunteers with the organization. All levels of skills and expertise are needed both behind the scenes and during competitions.
“The number one industry challenge is finding good people. Finding a high level of talent is hard unless people have been in the field for 25 years,” said Womack.
What NJMEP discovered is that the youth drawn to robotics have a natural aptitude and enthusiasm that could fill a growing void in today’s advanced manufacturing workforce.
“People coming out of these robotics competitions are our pipeline for the future workforce,” said Womack.
Technology is disrupting traditional manufacturing and has dramatically shifted the skill sets needed for future jobs in the field. Coming at the intersection of an aging workforce and lean talent pool, this disruption is continuing to cause a rising demand for qualified employees.
Not only are emerging technologies like robotics attracting a younger manufacturing workforce, but people born in the digital age are more likely to be naturally adept at working with automation and alongside robots.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) aims to prepare future science and technology leaders and innovators through its robotics community. Offering a curriculum of inclusive, team-based robotics programs for ages 4-18 (PreK-12), FIRST, headquartered in New Hampshire, was developed for implementation into school or structured afterschool programs.
The N.J. region falls under FIRST MidAtlantic Robotics, a non-profit that functions as an area partner of FIRST, which has teams in about 110 countries. There are three FIRST teams in N.J. and more than 679,000 students participated in the 2019-2020 season.
NJMEP recently hosted a high school robotics competition between some of the state’s best teams during its “MADE in New Jersey” Manufacturing Day, the largest manufacturing networking function on the East Coast. Aside from the robotics competition, the record-breaking attendance at the 2022 10th anniversary celebration ‘MADE in New Jersey’ Manufacturing Day in Freehold, N.J. also included exhibits from supporting businesses, hands-on demonstrations with the latest workforce training technology, and “MADE in New Jersey” product displays from the state’s manufacturers.