By Mary Knight | Communications Specialist, CareerWise USA
As an automation engineer with Intertech Plastics, Kevin spends his day-to-day designing end effectors—devices that mount to the end of robotic arms to interact with and manipulate parts.
From the age of five, he loved to tinker; taking things apart to figure out the mechanics of each piece and how they worked as a whole.
Since he enjoyed working with his hands, Kevin thought he would join the U.S. Air Force after high school and fix planes, or work in aerospace engineering. But once he started high school, his post-secondary vision for himself changed when he began taking Cherry Creek School District’s CTE courses and joined the robotics team.
Shortly after joining, Kevin became the lead of the manufacturing team in which he was responsible for managing a group of students in addition to coordinating advanced manufacturing professionals to come in and work with the team.
“That experience is what absolutely cemented my interest in pursuing a career in engineering and specifically advanced manufacturing,” said Kevin.
With a severe case of ADHD, he wasn’t keen on continuing in academia after he finished high school as the traditional classroom learning could be very challenging for him. Knowing this, Kevin’s CTE teachers suggested he pursue a mechanical engineering technician apprenticeship while still in high school.
With advanced manufacturing being one of the largest industries in Colorado, the exposure to the industry and work is an important part of CTE and apprenticeship experiences.
“I think apprenticeships are really good at making young people aware of the industries and options that sometimes get overlooked, and sometimes those are the fields that have the best opportunities,” said Kevin.
Initially, Kevin began an apprenticeship with Micron Technology, Inc. A few months into the program, Micron’s general manager recommended he interview for a position at Intertech Plastics through the CareerWise Colorado youth apprentice program. With the experience he’d already gained from his CTE courses, the robotics team and knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD) he was a desirable candidate for the engineering technician apprenticeship.
Kevin began his apprenticeship with Intertech in the fall of his senior year.
“I came in with some of the hard skills; it was all of the soft skills I didn’t have,” said Kevin. “I was not a good communicator and I had a lot of anxiety around that.”
During his apprenticeship, Kevin earned a wide variety of invaluable skills. He collaborated with vendors across the manufacturing industry, which not only helped build his professional network, but also gave him lots of practice developing his professional communication and time-management skills. And he had many opportunities to directly apply his talents; he helped design and implement robotics, building a substantial portfolio—something he doesn’t think he would have been able to do had he gone the traditional post-secondary path.
Now, having graduated from the CareerWise apprenticeship program, Kevin is in a full-time position with Intertech while studying advanced manufacturing sciences part-time at Metropolitan State University (MSU) in Denver.
Although he originally didn’t envision going on to higher ed after high school, he shares that MSU is the perfect fit in terms of balancing his classes and a full-time job. The class sizes are smaller allowing him more one-on-one interaction with his professors and many of the other students are working full-time jobs while pursuing their degree just like him.
“I think the reason why I’m doing well in college now is because even with my general education classes, I’ve always liked learning and the weight of securing a full-time role is already off my shoulders,” said Kevin.
Along with his professional network and manufacturing knowledge, Kevin shares the self-starter mindset and financial independence he gained by taking this alternate path has been incredibly valuable.
“I’m financially in a better place; I moved out and have my own place with another Intertech apprentice,” said Kevin. “I definitely wouldn’t be doing any of that had I gone directly to college.”
Having been in a full-time role for more than four years, Kevin is proud of his many contributions to the team. He’s designed and implemented automation systems throughout the factory with machine vision to inspect products before they are distributed, saving the company millions. More recently, he built a cell allowing Intertech to affordably automate insert molding—a process that takes a piece of metal, puts it inside a mold for plastic to be inserted around it.
Kevin credits his self-advocacy to securing a full-time position with Intertech. He continually kept asking his supervisor if he could take on more projects and responsibility—and he encourages incoming youth apprentices at the company to do the same.
“The biggest thing I always tell our apprentices is you have to be able to self-advocate; there’s always something that you can do that no one else on the team can,” said Kevin. “If there’s something you see that you think you can do, offer to do it and prove that you can.”