FIRST CONNECTS: to Careers and Entrepreneurship is the third in a series of blog posts highlighting FIRST’s impact on careers, entrepreneurship and the local diversification strategy.
While play has been halted for the current season, the spirit of FIRST isn’t taking any breaks as innovation continues to grow in #YQG.
“In the coming weeks, we will be virtually judging FIRST’s most prestigious awards that focus on leadership, inclusion, communication, and collaboration. Teams and individuals not only exhibit these skills during play, but as a constant daily practice. I’m incredibly excited for the interviews” said Adam Castle, Director of Venture Services for WEtech Alliance.
Participation in FIRST Robotics programs and competitions can provide a pathway to employment with graduates also finding the confidence and expertise to launch their own companies.
Scott Fairley, chief executive officer of Windsor-based Optimotive Technologies Inc., was a member of Massey Secondary Schools’ FIRST Robotics team in 2015-16 when the team qualified for the world championships in St. Louis, Missouri.
“It was an incredible experience to see how gigantic that competition was,” said Fairley. “It was held at the stadium where the St. Louis Rams NFL team plays and it was amazing to see how much excitement was being generated.”
Now, Fairley says that anyone who submits a resume to his company which includes experience on a FIRST Robotics team has an advantage over fellow applicants.
“It’s hard to find people with hands-on robotics experience so anyone who’s been around that environment and participated on a team has a huge edge,” said Fairley. “It was transformative for me and led me to starting my own company in the fall of 2016.”
After high school, Fairley attended St. Clair College briefly but then decided to take “a leap of faith” and start his own company.
“It’s not been easy but it has certainly been well worth it and without FIRST Robotics, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
His company is working on autonomous vehicle development with a focus on creating software and hardware to help these vehicles operate in cold-weather situations that often prevent such vehicles from performing at optimum levels.
At Centerline (Windsor) Inc., a local company which is heavily involved in the program, listing experience with FIRST Robotics competition on a resume can also be a major advantage.
In addition to engineering, computer programming and software design, there’s room on each Robotics team for students interested in business, marketing, public relations and fund-raising.
“Every discipline involved in the program is what’s needed in any well-run business,” said Larry Koscielski, vice-president of process and technology development at Centerline. “Students from FIRST have already proven they have problem-solving skills, know how to work with teammates and have a passion for all of it.
“They can hit the ground running, or at least walking, if they come to us,” added Koscielski.
Among Centerline’s FIRST Robotic Alumni hires includes Mary Spence-High.
“I participated in FIRST Robotics in high school and loved it. It taught me a lot about critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving and just working with tools. More importantly though, it gave me a passion for robotics and technology. Right after I graduated from St Clair College, I was sought out by Centerline because of my continual involvement with FIRST, and was employed right away as a controls technician.” said Spence-High, Controls Technician at Centerline and FIRST Robotics Alumni. “I went from building competitive robots in high school to programming the industrial robots that build the cars we drive every day. FIRST has shaped my life in so many ways, from the lessons I learned to my own career choice. The connections that I’ve made through FIRST were what made this possible.”
Centerline provides sponsorship funds and in-kind help to 13 local teams.
The company also provides opportunities for teams to work on their robots at their plant on Morton Drive and it helps with shipping costs, trophies and cross-border shipping logistics for teams competing in U.S. events, including the world championship in Detroit.
The benefits of a regional strength in FIRST Robotics couldn’t be more evident.
“As a FIRST judge, team mentor, and startup advisor, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to see things from a 40,000 foot perspective.” adds Castle.
“We have clients using skills they learned in FIRST to power their businesses, we have talent with invaluable technical project management experience, and then there are the intangibles. The culture of diversity, inclusion, and gracious professionalism that FIRST instills in the communities it operates in has a ripple effect for our workforce, our startups, and our business community at large.”