Need a custom clock made from aluminum as a wedding gift?
Perhaps you need 100 acrylic boxes with lids and engraving on them for your business?
Maybe you need a custom item fashioned from wood.
Owen McLarty will design and manufacture it as well. He’s a sales representative with CNC Express. McLarty is a partner in the endeavor with fellow sales representative Dexter Monroe and manager Alex Martell.
None of this may strike you as out of the ordinary until you realize the three are juniors in high school. They are enrolled in the school of industrial technology and design at the fledgling be.tech academy charter school operated by the Manteca Unified School District.
This is not a Junior Achievement - type program. Nor is it simply reviving vocational education that once flourished in every high school in California through the offering of metal shop, wood shop and automotive classes for a period.
The goal is to teach every student an employable skill complete with certification or the background needed to effectively access trade schools along with a high school diploma.
Those enrolled in the academy’s school of industrial technology and design learn how to do computer assisted design (CAD), operate 3-D printers, plasma cutters, laser tables and a wide variety of skills such as welding. How effective are the skills they are learning? West Star Industries — the West Coast’s leading producer of custom stainless steel foodservice equipment that operates a 90,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Stockton — has hired be.tech academy students for summer work and recently hired a graduate. Other area manufacturers and fabricating firms are partnering with the school district. The reason is simple. There is a shortage of skilled workers for a variety of tasks from machinists to welding. It isn’t unusual for some firms to have to go out of country to places like Mexico to find skilled workers.
That is changing thanks to be.tech.
Skills, of course, won’t get you the job alone. Martell, who was attending East Union High before enrolling in the two-year be.tech program, said before while he was serious about school he didn’t really get the importance of being on time or even making it to class if he was just feeling 100 percent. Now he says he gets the importance of showing up and being on time as he needs to keep learning to deal with new challenges every day that are presented at the academy. Part of it is how important it is to meet deadlines to deliver products to customers.
It’s not by accident that students are embracing things that go beyond skill and education needed to land and hold a job. The be.tech academy that currently includes culinary arts and first responders was designed with developing attitudes as well as aptitudes needed to succeed in the workplace. It is a message school adminstrators got loud and clear when founders surveyed the growing industries in and around the region that provide the most employment opportunities, whether it was distribution and logistics, food service, or fabrication.
But, you say, what about “education” as in math, science, history, language arts and such?
They hit the books before they tackle design and manufacturing challenges.
Martell said he understood the importance of an education before enrolling in be.tech but admitted he spent a lot of time in the classroom staring at the clock. That’s not the case anymore.
While some of the disciplines he was learning before at East Union High are still done in more of a traditional classroom approach at be.tech, there is extensive independent study.
“I don’t have to be held back by other people who are slower at (grasping) the subject,” Martell said. “If I want I can (concentrate) and blow through an entire semester in a month if I apply myself.”
The carrot, of course, to do that comes from challenges and new experiences be.tech offers.
Other students are manufacturing items for real world customers as well in addition to projects for a student’s own use such as step stools that vocational classes of yesteryear produced. One is making orchard float orders by area farmers. Students also experiment with various designs aimed at getting them to broaden their thinking about how the skills they are learning can be applied.
CNC Express is an outgrowth of an idea instructor Ryan Costa proposed for students to form a business partnership.
The three took the challenge. And along the way they are picking up additional skills ranging from marketing, customer service, and learning the nuances of business from billing to government regulations to grasping the importance of team work. They had a booth, as an example, at last November’s MRPS holiday craft show and ended up selling out of every item they manufactured for it such as wind spinners.
And while they are willing to tackle any challenge, they are careful not to oversell themselves.
“If there is something you want done and we don’t have the equipment to do it or the knowledge how we will tell you,” McLarty said.
Even more important, they know what they are going to do after they receive their high school diploma in 2016.
Martell has his sights set on studying engineering and perhaps having his own business. Monroe definitely wants to continue his education at a trade school. McLarty is heading to a trade school as well with the goal of working in metal fabrication.
And it’s because be.tech is helping them realize all that they can be.
If you would like to contact CNC Express about having them design and manufacture a possible item for you email firstname.lastname@example.org
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.