Doing Battle With 'Bots, In Hopes Of A Stronger Workforce

Nov 20, 2013

Manufacturing has been an economic mainstay of the Miami Valley for decades. But manufacturing is changing: today it’s increasingly high-tech, and the industry is struggling to remake its image and get more young people interested.

Manufacturers are using robots to recruit, but that strategy may fall short. Xtreme Bots, a competition that pairs area manufacturers with high school teams to make battling robots, is designed to train youth in some technical skills and get them excited about jobs in the industry.

A study out last year found almost three quarters of Miami Valley manufacturers who were hiring couldn’t find qualified applicants.

“Many employers say, just give me somebody, who will show up everyday, drug free, willing to work, and is willing to learn,” said Angelia Erbaugh of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association. Employers want skilled machinists, and welders, but many also say they need recruits with soft skills, like teamwork and critical thinking.

An Xtreme Bots instructor from Miami Valley Career Technology Center, Van Henderson, throws the workforce problem back at the industry. He thinks youth need apprenticeships and on-site training opportunities, steps that go beyond just outreach.

“We need to get some consistency in the chain, and get the employers to take these kids and say okay, this is the next level,” said Henderson.

And while manufacturing is growing bit by bit, that growth is outpaced by the health care and service industries. So Henderson says companies need to pay better, too: starting wages in most shops are around ten bucks an hour.

“Money talks,” he said. And while some young people at Xtreme Bots seemed engaged and excited about a future in manufacturing, more than a few said they were just doing the competition for fun.

Listen to the full story and see slides of the Xtreme Bots competition above, and check back Thursday for the final installment of “Future Production,” WYSO’s series on the future of manufacturing.

At the Xtreme Bots competition held at Wright State's Nutter Center in November, an all-girls' team from Coldwater, Ohio dominated this match with their robot "Mo."