For Anna Munie, the most impressive thing about the recent FIRST Robotics World Championship wasn’t a robot piloted by a goldfish. Instead, she was struck by how well prepared for the working world the elementary and high-school competitors already were. Munie works as a resource planning analyst for Consumers Energy — a major sponsor of the event and organization. Munie also volunteers with FIRST.

FIRST Championship
FIRST Championship

When she toured lawmakers including U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., and U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and other dignitaries through the pits last week ahead of the competition’s start, Munie was floored by how many of the students knew exactly who their elected representatives were. More than that, the kids took a beat to introduce themselves to Peters and Dingell. They thanked the politicians for coming. In addition to that, the students gave incredibly detailed answers not only about their robots, but also their sponsors and schools.

“It’s honestly something I would look for in an employee, and I’ve been in the business for 20 years,” she said. “I would hire these kids out of the pits into any company I’ve ever worked for.”

Monique Wells agreed.

“It’s bigger than the robots they created,” she said. Wells works for Consumers too, in STEM talent acquisition, as well as for FIRST. “What you see in their professional skills, their career readiness… they’re so in tune.” She said one of the benefits of FIRST’s work is that it makes the participants aware of the companies in their backyard, who their lawmakers are and how both affect their world on micro and macro levels. “That’s what we look for in employees; [it goes] beyond their technical skills and ability,” she said.

The other benefit of robotics competitions is they encourage the students to work together. Wells noted that typically, those who excel in the science and technology aspects of STEM tend to be individual contributors and not necessarily leadership types. But putting them on a team with a common goal helps them clear social hurdles and prepares them for life after college.

Detroit played host to the championship again this year after hosting it in 2018. Between the semi-finals at Cobo Center and the finals at Ford Field, the competition had over 40,000 attendees with just under half that amount being students. Some 407 teams from 37 countries participated, with competitors traveling from as far as Japan, India, Israel and Scotland to compete.

And yes, the Scottish teams wore traditional attire along with their team t-shirts.

“Kilts have been very popular this week,” Munie said.

FIRST Robotics Championship will return to Detroit in 2020.