ORLANDO, Fla.—On May 11, the last day of NPE2018, Jennifer Kane brought students from her engineering classes at Orlando's Timber Creek High School to the massive trade show.
They were excited to see injection molding, 3D printing and robotics. They weren't disappointed.
"I explained to them you're going to see a lot of high-tech robots here. And, of course, our robotics team, they loved that. And then, when we walked in here, one of the first things we saw was a robot. And it was moving faster than I've ever seen any robot move," Kane said. "So that was pretty cool."
The Timber Creek students were among 130 Orlando-area high school students who took a field trip to NPE2018.
The students were welcomed by the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association, the show organizer. After a brief welcome from industry leaders, the students split into groups that were led by association staff, who gave the young people a guided tour of the show. They saw manufacturing, automation and more, including a behind-the-scenes look at the show's recycling operation.
The idea was to showcase the many types of jobs available in plastics. That was a message that exhibitors made clear to the high school students.
"I'm on the board of the AMBA (American Mold Builders Association), and I can tell you that we are in need of mold makers," Jim Bott, new business development manager at Incoe Corp., told one group. "That's a highly technical, high-paying job, and they will pay for you to go to school.
"Manufacturing factories are no longer dirty and dark. They are clean, neat and safe. So don't think for a minute that you have to go to college to get a really good job in the plastics industry," Bott said.
Stan Glover, director of sales at Zeiger Industries Inc., paused from explaining liquid silicone rubber molding to make his pitch: "You can get great-paying jobs in manufacturing. If you are looking for a good career, plastics is where it's at."
The students already know all about the manufacturing skills gap, and they were interested in the plastics industry's message.
Samantha Ashby, a senior at Timber Creek, is interested in a career in mechanical engineering. Her dream job is to design attractions at theme parks, but she was interested in the plastics industry opportunities.
Ashby said it was hard to explain why she was interested in engineering.
"The first time I ever built a robot or got a hands-on project, it had my interest more than anything else I ever did," she said.
Xavier Pagan, another senior at Timber Creek, is interested in anything to do with the environment, like biodegradable materials or solar energy. He already has a part-time job where he works with Autodesk software.
"I'm really interested in going into industrial [manufacturing]. If I don't do exactly green energy, solar panels, wind turbines and such," he said. "I'm very interested in a lot of the machines. I'm very interested to see how they work. Injection molding is very intricate, and it challenges me to think about it. It's fun for me. I like to be challenged like that."
The Timber Creek students were joined by others from Edgewater High School and Dr. Philips High School in Orlando. BASF Corp. sponsored the visit.
"What our goal is here is to expose students to all the different opportunities out there," said Michael Armbruster, associate superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, who accompanied the students on the visit to NPE.
"This is an awesome experience for our students. They are excited, I'm excited. I walked across the bridge (over the West hall of the Orange County Convention Center) and saw the expo floor, and I am telling you it looks magnificent. So I can't wait to get out there join them and see some of the cool things that I know are happening."