Back to the Future: High school reimagines advanced manufacturing opportunities.

Knudt Flor asked a roomful of high schoolers a rhetorical question.

Who loves gaming?

The former BMW Manufacturing president admitted that most parents gathered in BMW's Zentrum to watch daughters and sons sign on to an apprenticeship with the manufacturer probably weren't thrilled with their children's gaming habits.

"Sorry," he said. "We need these people."

He went on to describe a Plant Spartanburg beyond his tenure, one built around virtual reality, the internet of things, drone inspections and 3D printers able to make replacement parts onsite in lieu of shipping them in from afar with a six-week wait.

"You work together with the robots," he told the high school seniors at the August event. "Hand in hand, day by day the robot talks to you. You talk to the robot."

This is how the U.S. will stay competitive on the global stage, he said, during a time when some industry leaders advise moving BMW's U.S. facilities to Mexico, Nicaragua or China.

"No! This is completely the wrong strategy," he answered, adding that BMW is one of the largest global exporters in vehicles because itsellsto China, which, in his words, is much more fun than the other way around. "The jobs are here, the education is here, the people are here."

People like the ninth graders in Teresa Curvin's advanced technology for design class, who were dismantling household objects like Christmas lights and researching what goes into the making of them on a Friday afternoon in early September.

These students are members of Fountain Inn High School's inaugural class and pioneers of the school's sparkling new Automation and Engineering Institute, the first in Greenville County.

Shared career centers and vocational tracks have long been a part of high school curriculum.

Rows of lathes and mills and a Kukarobotic arm la Plant Spartanburg are something unique to the $84 million school.

Principal Maureen Tiller said the institute is a sprocket in the county's shift away from segregating 'career-focused' students and 'college-bound' students, the technical and the academic.

"For years, it used to be that students would get placed into a track and almost feel like they were stuck there," she told GSA Business Report. "So, they would either have to select college-bound or career-bound."

Sometimes even before knowing much about what either option entailed.

"They were pretty much 'locked in' until they graduated," she said.

With the institute's presence on campus, ninth graders can take...

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