I have seen the future of U.S. manufacturing, and it is vibrant, exciting and dynamic.
It's "robobot" competition season in the U.S., and if you can find your way to a tournament, you too will see the bright future I see.
But when you go, please know: You won't see that future by watching the battles. Sure, they're the hook: Sparks fly! Metal screeches against metal! Parts careen through the air!
But that's the sideshow.
Instead, watch the students, their teacher advisors, and -- especially for you, the IndustryWeek audience -- the company-sponsor advisors and representatives.
Look at the faces of the students: The intensity, the focus, the concentration -- whether they're preparing their 'bot for battle, watching it perform in the cage, or repairing it afterward, they're dialed in.
Watch how the teams race back to the "pit" to repair their damaged 'bot (win or lose, few survive without at least some damage). See how they circle the table, urgently working to repair and improve their 'bot, like emergency room surgeons reviving a patient.
Note the teamwork, as two members bang out dents from the body, another recharges the battery, yet another rechecks the circuitry and wiring, and still others ensure the integrity of the wheels.
In quieter times, observe the sportsmanship, the students stopping by each other's pit. Sure, sometimes it's to gain intel -- it's a competition after all -- but just as often it's to collaborate on solving a problem, share some advice or lend a tool.
And the adults hovering nearby? They've spent months volunteering an evening or two each week to guide their team. The teacher-advisors cheer for their team to win, but it's clear they know what the students already have won (read: learned). The company-sponsor advisors can be overheard declaring how they've gotten as much, and more, out of the experience as the students.
The teachers and company advisors, as well as the numerous volunteers who hosted the competition, are leading the ground game in the battle to inspire students to pursue manufacturing careers, a few students at a time. From what I saw late last month at the AWT Robobot Competition, near Cleveland, Ohio, they've captured the attention of many students and changed the minds of many parents.
Yes, I know: Not all of the students will pursue a manufacturing career. But some will -- and I have no doubt the experience will stay with those who don't. They'll remember the challenge of transforming an idea, knowledge and materials into something tangible; they'll respect the people who take on that challenge, which is another huge step in the right direction.
I encourage you to go see a robotics competition in your area, where the best and brightest students, working together with the most dedicated teachers and manufacturing professionals, are shaping the future of U.S. manufacturing.
I'm betting you just might be inspired to join them.