By Erika Germer | CareerWise K12 Partnerships Manager
SparkFun Electronics kits have sparked the imaginations—and even career aspirations—of countless students, including the company’s newly hired apprentice Kyle Watanabe. “It’s cool to think that I’ll be making the next generation of products that I once played around with,” says Kyle, who is finishing up his junior year at Silver Creek High School in Longmont. “I knew at an early age that I wanted to have a job where I am moving around and being productive. I’ve always been interested in finding a career where I can work with my hands.”
Yet despite his stated goals and putting in the work to achieve them, Kyle discovered that getting from Point A to Point B—or sometimes Point C—doesn’t follow a linear path. He first applied to CareerWise in 2019 as a sophomore and was hired as a manufacturing tech apprentice with Associated Thermoforming. He spent several months getting acclimated to the tooling department when the company was forced to lay off a percentage of their workforce, including their young apprentice.
“I was definitely disappointed, since I liked the environment there and the people were so great,” Kyle remembers. “The whole manufacturing process really works for me, so I knew I wanted to stay with it and try again.”
He had to wait an entire year due to the upheaval of the pandemic, but when the CareerWise Hiring Hub opened this spring, Kyle was posed and ready to apply.
SparkFun posted two apprenticeship openings on the Hub, and Kyle was intrigued by their job description for manufacturing tech. “I had the chance to tour the SparkFun facility about a year ago with my Career Development Center (CDC) class,” he says, “and I really liked their company culture.”
SparkFun intentionally seeks to break stereotypical notions of what manufacturing looks like and perceptions people have of a manufacturing warehouse.
“We have a great crew, (that is) super fun and on the younger side, who work really hard,” says Kristen Moorefield, director of operations. “We also have people who have been with us for a decade. It’s an interesting environment, atypical of what people envision when they think about manufacturing.”
As an apprentice, Kyle will gain tangible skills such as soldering, testing and quality assurance, programming and processing.
“We were looking for students who are ready to work and ready to learn, and who are willing to provide feedback, be curious and ask questions,” Moorefield said. “We are taking the future talent in this area and providing skills that will absolutely translate into professions in the future.”
SparkFun is excited to welcome Kyle and a second manufacturing tech apprentice, Cody Blough of Berthoud High School, when they arrive for their first day of work in mid-June.