UNION — A tour of Gestamp was likely the first of many educational opportunities for local high school students at the facility.
A group of school representatives touring Gestamp on Wednesday morning included Upstate Regional Career Specialist Toney Farr, school board members Dr. Wanda All and Jantzen Childers, Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall, Job Placement/CATE Coordinator Patty Hughey, Director of Secondary Education Cindy Langley and Instructional Coordinator Tabitha Talley.
The group also included an engineering class made up of 27 ninth, tenth and eleventh grade students. The engineering class — based in the Union County Career and Technology (CATE) Center — is part of the nationwide program Project Lead the Way. Project Lead the Way provides curriculum which is founded in the fundamental problem-solving and critical-thinking skills taught in traditional career and technical education, but at the same time integrates national academic and technical learning standards and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) principles.
The tour group also included members of the Union County Motorsports Association (UCMA), which meets monthly in the Union County CATE Center. Tours of the facility were led by employees Darren Bowman, Bart Miller and Jason O’Dell.
“I think it’s really good for the community to see what we do here and see the job opportunities,” said Gestamp Human Resources Manager Susan Beckstead. “It’s good for students as well as parents — parents can communicate to their children that there is an opportunity right here.”
Beckstead and Hughey also mentioned that Gestamp and the CATE Center are in the very beginning stages of establishing an apprenticeship program, in which some of the top mechatronics students would gain hands-on experience at Gestamp. Meetings about the program are scheduled for later this month.
“I’ve always thought that hands-on experience is just as important as classroom,” Beckstead said, emphasizing the need for workers in the mechatronics field.
Louis Jordan — a UCMA member and parent — said he is currently working with his son to help him figure out the direction of his future.
“The biggest reason I’m here is that we’re trying to decide right now,” Jordan said. “He likes hands-on, and I’m pushing him to mechatronics. He wants to do both (mechatronics and engineering) so after he goes for a year or two, then he can transfer to an engineering degree from there and hopefully have both.”
Technicians with a background in mechatronics actually teach the robotic systems in the facility, as well as performing repairs or preventative maintenance. Bowman said teaching a particular robot the particular set of required moves usually involves about 8-12 hours of down-time programming. Gestamp currently employs 15 maintenance technicians who work in three shifts, 24 hours a day, six days a week.
Engineers employed at Gestamp work on the quality side of production, determining whether an issue is related to materials or process.
“A couple engineers work solely on the tooling process, a couple work solely on the stamping process. I have two that are focused on quality, and they spend a lot of time at BMW and here on the floor making sure the quality of the parts is 100 percent,” Beckstead said.
Gestamp currently employs 10 engineers as well as other managerial-level salaried individuals.
Following the tours, participants gathered in a conference room for a question-and-answer session. Students learned that the parts of which they watched the assembly would be on the road to BMW to become automobiles within six to 36 hours. They also learned that around 1,200 vehicle sets are shipped out of the facility by truck each day.
School representatives also had questions for Gestamp employees.
“Do you have a mechanism in place that will allow someone in the plant to go out to the schools to actually teach a class for the day in science in math, or to explain to students the importance of certain skill sets they need for your industry?” Farr asked. “Teachers need to see these areas of advanced manufacturing in the Upstate. Also, it can be hard to get students into a plant, but the alternative is to get industry people into the schools.”
Beckstead said Gestamp would be very open to such ideas.
“We don’t currently do it, but I think it’s a fantastic idea,” Beckstead said. “I would be very open to talk to anybody about that.”
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.