Lessons from Metal Shop: Confidence in the Future

I met with Michael Sherritt today on his prep period and got schooled in shop – metal shop, to be exact. Welding, machining, foundry, sheet metal to be more descriptive.  He described how his students come in a receive a safety orientation and, after the importance and how-to of safety is established, go to work.  Students participate in the various metal shop areas and have projects that they have to undertake for their final grade.  Students will often start with a project that is easier – casting something out of aluminum using one of Mr. Sherritt’s patterns – and move on to something more difficult, like making their own pattern into which they pour liquid aluminum, aluminum that is a blazing 1400 degrees Fahrenheit.

More than the details of the class and the techniques and projects, Mr. Sherritt spoke of the confidence that he sees being built in his students.  “Sure, I hope they get a lot of new skills,” he stated, “ but more than anything I hope they take away confidence.  I want them to know that they can take on any project.”  Whether that is taking a piece of sheet metal, laying it out, cutting it, forming a box and welding it together, or machining a piece of steel to a degree of precision within 1/1000 of an inch, he sees that the confidence he hopes for gradually develops in his students over the semester.

Metal Shop makes for an easy platform to talk about the world of work with students.  Sherritt, who has worked for many  years as a consultant in the industry, says the top values he stresses to students are that they should equip themselves in such a way that they can’t be outsourced and seek work that can’t be automated.  He draws from local business, Miller Machining and Manufacture, who just hired one of his former students and shares that industry jobs can range easily from eighteen to thirty dollars an hour, with the lead worker making eighty dollars an hour.  One of the challenges he faces is getting students interested in machining, as opposed to foundry, welding, or sheet metal, because the others require more activity from the students and are therefore more intrinsically motivating and engaging.  Why the push toward machining?  It’s the area where most of the metal shop related jobs will be in the future.

Multimedia presentation made with Photostory 3, free software available from Microsoft.  View the tutorial I filmed while making this Metal Shop multimedia presentation here.

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