Oakland has a long history as a manufacturing hub, with some curio-highlights like the invention of the fortune-cookie folding machine and the fabrication of Chicago’s reflective bean-statue, but nostalgia has little to do with the industrious rise of the local maker movement.
At the heart of the issue is a economic argument about the long term value of these jobs, and a vision of Oakland at the forefront of the advanced manufacturing industry (as opposed to the forefront of the tech-worker bedroom-community industry).
A critical part of realizing this vision is educating an advanced manufacturing workforce. At Laney College, Danny Beesley has been in the thick of it, designing these programs, promoting the use of innovative tools and building pathways for students to find work as skilled technicians of these tools. But updating Laney to create a better vocational pathway only serves people who have already decided that this is what they want to do. So Mr. Beesley is now also helping to develop a “fab-lab” at Castlemont High School.
“The whole purpose of this space is to get people interested,” he said of the Castlemont program. “Engineering and design, advanced manufacturing, and ICT [Information Communication Technology] is this, this is a great exposure tool for those things.”
This new program bridges the hands-on appeal of shop class, being creative and using tools, with in-depth exposure to technology, including open-source file libraries, 3-D and 2-D design software, and hardware interfaces. Castlemont and Laney are also hoping to develop faculty bridges which will cultivate industry involvement in Laney’s curriculum and Laney faculty involvement at Castlemont, in order to strengthen the career pathway and improve the compatibility of the curriculum.
“It’s about building that chain,” says Mr. Beesley, “there’s lots of companies, especially here in the Bay Area, that need people, and everyone says, ‘we can’t find people to run machines for us.'”
At this point, makers are not just a DIY subculture, they have become the strongest advocates of capitalizing on advances in the technology and affordability of fabrication tools for business applications.
Politicians are starting to catch on. Just last month the White House hosted a makers faire, attended by our very own Mayor Jean Quan, and in addition, the California legislature passed AB86 which created the California Career Pathways Trust.
The CCPT dispersed $250 million in one-time grants to K-12 schools throughout the state. This funding is meant to expand career-relevant education programs, and establish collaborative relationships with businesses to improve training curriculum for regional, high-growth industries.
The East Bay Consortium, led by Peralta Colleges (of which Laney is one), secured the largest possible grant from the CCPT, and now has $15 million to focus on its four chosen areas, which, along with advanced manufacturing, include health and biosciences, IT and digital media, and public service and law.
The grants will help expand the fab-labs at Laney and Castlemont, and give them the resources to work with other departments such as culinary, math, science, fashion and theater programs, for which new applications of fabrication technology are being discovered all the time.
While these tools and skills are widely applicable, and are typically seen as secondary skills for designers and engineers, Mr. Beesley sees the program, at its core, as a vocational path closely aligned with the CCPT’s vision of career-relevant vision, “the real value is in actually teaching you how to be a technician on the equipment itself… that’s the growing industry piece.”
His work is knitting together several threads of the maker movement, ideas about the joy of being creative, the value of manufacturing jobs, the excitement of fabrication technology and the importance of developing educational opportunities. Ultimately these efforts will benefit not just the students who are able to find jobs, but also schools’ ability to engage student interests, and the manufacturing industry’s ability to find well trained employees.
As Beesley puts it, “3-D printing in education is not about printing plastic widgets, I mean when you look at it and think about it that’s exactly what you’re doing, is printing plastic widgets, but it’s about empowering youth to become active participants in the way the world is created, to empower them to go build something and make something of their own.”