I had the pleasure of attending the National HTEC Conference at Dunwoody College of Technology last week. In addition to the great networking opportunities, the fun of introducing new people to the National Robotics League and catching up with existing NRL members, I also participated in the conference keynote session with Eric Chester.
Eric was a great speaker and his whole presentation was wonderful but there was one line in his presentation that really hit home for me:
We don’t have a Skills Gap,
we have a Core Values Gap.
As another attendee pointed out later, it’s probably more accurate to say we have a Skills Gap and a Core Value Gap, but his central point remains: we can teach people hard skills until we are blue in the face, but if we don’t also impart a shared set of values (or soft skills) we won’t build the future workforce we need to thrive.
What does all of this have to do with the National Robotics League? I’m glad you asked.
In addition to the STEM skills NRL team members learn from participating, each of the seven “Core Values” Eric highlighted in presentation as being essential for successful employees can also be learned through this program.
Building robots won’t make a hard-core grumpy-pants a happy camper over night, but working on a project that is both fun and a lot of work is a pleasant experience for most people. Having a positive “working” experience like that early in one’s working life does a lot to instill the idea that one can be happy and hardworking at the same time.
There is nothing like being on a team with your peers, working on something you really care about to bring home the value of becoming a person who can be counted on to do what she says she will do. Plus, disappointing your peers can come with consequences much worse than those suffered by disappointing parents, or even an employer.
One of the ways to learn to look and behave in a professional manner is to have professionalism modeled for you early in your career. Because a big part of the NRL program is having students work directly with manufacturing partners, ideally inside manufacturing facilities, the program helps raise a whole generation of teenagers who don’t need to be told what people wear and how they act while they are at work in our industry, because they have direct experience in the workplace already.
You want employees who know how to think on their feet, and pitch in to do whatever is required to get the job done? How about hiring someone who has experience taking a machine from “smashed to bits” to “fighting shape” in 20 minutes?
The competition rules that govern NRL national and regional events not only emphasize safety, but also the importance of good sportsmanship and respect for fellow competitors and the people who judge and manage the competition. In practice we find violations of this respect are rare, and most often curtailed with a simple reminder or warning.
While we work hard to make it difficult to “cheat” while competing in the NRL, we also make it very clear to participants that our expectation is that each of them is trustworthy and honorable. We find that expectation, coupled with the positive examples from coaches and industry mentors, means almost all of our participants live up to, or exceed our expectations in this area.
While there are some paid staff members on both the national and regional level, the overwhelming majority of the people who make the NRL possible are volunteers. We find that when students see how much individuals and companies are willing to do to help them succeed, they can’t help but feel (and express) their gratitude.
Do you wish your students, or the young people growing up in your community were better versed in the soft and hard skills they need to be productive (and happy) members of our future workforce? Contact us about getting involved in the NRL today!
I included the slides up above, but they don’t really do Eric justice as a speaker. Here’s a short video to help remedy that.