Manufacturing jobs are programming jobs: We need CS in high school

March 28, 2012 at 7:52 am 7 comments

I grew up in Detroit.  Kids in Detroit used to be told to finish high school so that they can get a good paying job “on the line” in the factories.  Amy Ko points out in an intriguing blog post that machining jobs are now programming jobs.  Here’s another kind of argument for teaching programming in high school. First, because that’s going to be one of the skills that someone in manufacturing may need.  Second, because manufacturers are having a hard time recruiting people into programming, too, so we need to give people the chance to see the real thing early.  People are getting through high school deciding that programming (and computer science) jobs are boring, uninteresting, and asocial.

Recently, there have been arguments against college education today in the media: that there are plenty of good enough jobs for people with specialized skills without four years of College.  Here’s an important class of just those kinds of specialized jobs, and those manufacturing jobs need programming.

Today, how­ever, machin­ing is less about oper­at­ing machines, and more about writ­ing code that oper­ates machines (CNC machines, in par­tic­u­lar, stand­ing for com­puter numer­i­cally con­trolled). To learn the CNC pro­gram­ming lan­guage, work­ers typ­i­cally take an 18-week course before their ready to oper­ate CNC machines, but then they can make a rea­son­able man­u­fac­tur­ing wage with­out get­ting their hands dirty or risk­ing injury. This is a clas­sic exam­ple of end-user pro­gram­ming, where some­one has to write code as a means to an end (a phys­i­cal object).

What’s even more fas­ci­nat­ing is the eco­nomic dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing this jobs. Appar­ently, the prob­lem isn’t train­ing the machin­ists, but find­ing peo­ple who want to be trained. The Man­u­fac­tur­ing Insti­tute found in a sur­vey that there are as many 600,000 man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs going unfilled, the major­ity of which are jobs that require these kinds of tech­ni­cal com­put­ing skills. This is there­fore as much a train­ing prob­lem as it is a recruit­ing problem.

via machining is now coding | Bits and Behavior.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  March 28, 2012 at 10:00 am

    One thing I have been running into is that career technical high schools are doing more comptuer science than a lot of college prep high schools. THey generally call the programs of study “programming and web development” than computer science. A lot of these programs cover more than what students in college prep high schools cover though. Typically they learn several programming languages (as opposed to just Java in many college prep HS programs) and often get more involved in other sorts of programming such as imbedded systems, game development and mobile applications. They are also more likely to get involved with engineering or robotics programs as well.
    And of course these same schools often offer machinest programs that teach CNC programming. Companies who make CNC machines have been quite willing to offer support for these programs out of enlightened self interest.

    • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  March 29, 2012 at 1:17 am

      There is no guarantee that the “programming and web development” tech courses teach any programming. They often stop with HTML and CSS, which are not programming languages.

      The CNC courses do a bit better, but with modern software this is often just constructing a 3D model with one program and converting to tool motion with another program rather than doing programming in the sense that computer scientists use the term. Although you could do some cool things with programming and CNC, few people do.

      • 3. alfredtwo  |  March 29, 2012 at 6:18 am

        I don’t know that they “often stop at HTML and CSS”. I work closely with about half a dozen career technical schools and they all do a lot of serious software development. I find that “regular” high schools are a lot more likely to stop with a simple web development curriculum.

        • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am

          You are probably right. We have no schools that are just technical schools in our county. The technical training is run through the regular high schools (with a course list that sprinkles the classes around the county, so that students can’t get a complete technical education from one school). None of the “ROP” courses goes beyond web design. I think that the only high-school computer science classes are in private and charter schools here.

  • 5. Bonnie  |  March 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    We have absolutely no computer science in our high tax, wealthy school district, so I volunteered to teach Scratch after school at our elementary school (we have afterschool enrichment clubs). The parents were enthused, and everything seemed to be in place – I was gathering curriculum ideas – when the word came down from our district IT guy – he did not want Scratch on school computers.

  • 7. Want a Job? Try Learning Computer Science | Infinite Leap  |  October 11, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    […] To only look at standard tech jobs though would be to miss much of the usefulness of computer science and programming skills. I’ve talked with mechanical engineers who have needed programming skills to customize CAD software and to program controllers for systems they have designed.  A friend of mine in chemical engineering often has to write macros for Microsoft Office. Programming skills are needed when using Matlab or Mathematica, applicable to many fields. Anyone involved in data-analysis will benefit from knowing programming skills and concepts. Even some jobs once considered blue-collar jobs require programming skills. […]


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