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School, Siemens team up for pilot program
South Forsyth High School student Sunny Wang learns to make cell phone covers during a class that’s part of a Georgia Department of Education Global Workforce Initiative pilot program. - photo by Jennifer Sami

The next coolest cell phone case could be a Sunny Wang design or a Tyler Biehl creation.

They may just be freshmen, but the students could become top manufacturers thanks to a new program at South Forsyth High.

“I wanted to have that feeling of my work is going to be shown and noticed,” Biehl said.

For Wang, the inspiration to sign up for the school’s new manufacturing pathway program came from her father, an engineer.

“He’s always talking about how he’s designing a new product for medical issues,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting to learn just how a design could turn into a phenomenon that could do many important things.”

The two are among about 50 students enrolled in the South program, which is serving as a test for the Georgia Department of Education’s Global Workforce Initiative.

For being the pilot program, South received a $108,000 grant from the state, along with nearly $30,000 in local funds recently approved by the Forsyth County Board of Education.

Wil Coughlin, who heads the program, said that funding is going toward machinery like torque wrenches, a simulator, 3-D printer and other industry-standard equipment.

The program is designed to last four years, at the end of which students will have earned their diploma and a manufacturing certificate, which could help them enter the field without much additional training.

To ensure the program was teaching tangible skills used in the industry, Siemens has become a partner to offer advice, training and feedback.

The company, which has a facility in south Forsyth, has worked with Coughlin and the school to design the lab.

Coughlin also spent more than a week at the manufacturing company interviewing staff to find out exactly what the industry needs from future workers.

“The most important thing to me was what are the deficits when you hire a new person, what are they not good at, what do you have to spend the most time training them on. So that’s what we’re trying to focus on here,” Coughlin said.

“By the time the time they finish the certification ... it means something. So they can go to Siemens and they can go to Hansgrohe or wherever it is and try to get a job just by showing them the certificate.”

The pathway to a certificate includes a foundations class during students’ first year of high school, an automation and robotics class the following year and a processes course in their third. There are no classes senior year.

“It is our design that by the time they get to their fourth year, they’ll be able to work,” he said. “We would give them the training where they would actually be able to get internships at Siemens and places like that.”

While Wang and Biehl said they’re not set on manufacturing as a career path, the experience and certificate the program offers would be useful in any career.

“It will affect how I look at things,” Biehl said. “This will probably affect where I am. I just don’t know where yet.”

Added Wang: “Any job in the future that I do will be affected by technology. It would be nice to be an engineer ... they are both very closely related.

“If I know how the manufacturing works, it will affect how carefully I work on the engineering part to make it easy on the manufacturers.”

On a recent afternoon, the students were working on creating a case for a cell phone.

Those in the engineering pathway were designing a cell phone, while the manufacturing students will get to build the case, as well as work on price points.

In addition to classwork, the students will also take field trips to Siemens throughout the year and get to experience the manufacturing sector first hand.

According to Coughlin, the program is not designed as a replacement for college, nor is it pushing students who don’t plan to attend college into a bad career.

“Our biggest job right now is convincing parents and students that manufacturing is not what you think of when you think of manufacturing,” he said. “They think of these dirty factories putting shoes together. And if you’ve ever gone to Siemens, it’s not that world whatsoever.

“So our first, biggest goal is we’re trying to change perception and help them understand that manufacturing is not this dirty old relegated system.”

Coughlin said the program will also help economic development for the community, bringing local students back to Forsyth County after college.

“This is really going to give these kids a leg up,” he said. “It’s also going to help these businesses because they won’t have to spend so much money on training.

“There’s a lot of these home-grown businesses here in Forsyth, and they’d rather stay within the county and hire local people. It’s a win-win.”