I know FRC had a direct impact on keeping our metal shop enrollment up at David Thompson Secondary, in Vancouver, BC. I don’t have stats, but I do have a story… our extracurricular FRC team was comprised of roughly equal numbers of students from the tech studies and business education departments. The tech crew would handle the building, repairs, programming and such, while the communications team would manage the web site, travel, promotions, community involvement, fundraising and awards applications.
One year a few of the girls on the communications team decided that the build team was getting to ‘have all the fun’ at the tournament, because they were the ones down on the floor and in the pit making all the big decisions. (That’s not really the case, of course… much of our team’s recognition came from the work of the comm team, but that was how they felt.)
So to get more ‘hands on’ with the robot three grade 12 girls, who had never been in a shop class since grade eight, signed up for Metal 11. The metal class that year was ‘on the bubble’… if it were not for those three students signing up, our senior metal class would have been cancelled for lack of enrollment. FRC kept the shop open that year, no doubt about it. It worked out well and the three girls each earned a spot on the drive team at various points in the year.
But that is just an anecdote… I’ll encourage you to challenge the auto teacher to look at the bigger picture. What does he love about automotive? Why does it matter that kids learn about mechanics?
Is it because it builds character and confidence? Because it can lead them to jobs? Because your city/country needs technically skilled people? Because it allows him to share a passion with keen young people?
There is the old story about how the development of the refrigerator drove many ice delivery services out of business. They viewed their business as ‘delivering ice’. Others viewed their business as ‘preserving food by keeping it cool’ and pivoted their business model to sell and deliver and repair fridges. Challenge him to ask “What do I do, and why does it matter?” and I’ll be surprised if FRC doesn’t match up pretty well those key goals.
Finally… and this may be the most cogent argument… what do skilled mechanics do? Not oil changes or brake jobs! Those tasks have been commoditized and handed over to low cost, low skill labour. And spark plugs? When was the last time you had to replace plugs? Skilled mechanics diagnose and repair complex electromechanical systems. When I have engine trouble the first thing I do is plug in to the computer and run a diagnostic. As electric cars and advanced safety and control systems continue to advance cars become more and more like robots every day. I have often felt that for a program that was interested in preparing students to become skilled mechanics for tomorrow’s vehicles that robotics is likely to be a far better training ground than traditional wrench-pulling.
I love cars, and love the classic auto shop. I think it is important that people who want to drive cars know a little about how they work… enough so that they can change their tire in an emergency, or not get ripped off by scam artists. But when I look at what skilled mechanics do, it is starting to look more like what robotics teams do than what auto shop students do.
Just a few suggestions… I hate to see shops close and I know our FRC experience helped not just keep our shops open, but grow our numbers and bring kids into the shops who would have never set foot there otherwise. And really… if you value teaching shop skills, you have to get the kids into the shop first.