Normally, legislation proposed in the NC General Assembly has to do with people – but a new bill filed by State Rep. Jon Hardister has to do with both people and robots.

On Tuesday, April 2, Hardister filed House Bill 552, titled “After-School Robotics Grants/Athletics.”

Hardister said this week that the bill would basically elevate student robotics competitions to the same level as sporting events and give students more leeway to engage in those events.  Students would, for instance, be allowed the same type of excused absences that football and basketball players get.

The new bill would establish an educational and competitive after-school robotics grant program.  It would also require the State Board of Education to adopt a set of rules for competitive robotics.

State Reps. Jason Saine of Lincoln County, Craig Horn of Union County and Chaz Beasley of Mecklenburg County are also sponsors of the bill.

Hardister said this week that these types of competitions have become a very big deal.  He added that they are excellent at helping students develop science and engineering skills that will benefit them in the modern workforce – in addition to keeping them very engaged while in school.

In the robotic competitions, the students are generally given a certain task for a robot to perform and then they must design and construct a robot to do it.

The new legislation is meant to motivate students to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – known as STEM programs in the schools – while building critical life- and work-related skills.  It’s also meant to enhance partnerships between public schools and private companies, allowing students an opportunity to be employable at jobs that are currently in demand.

“The investment in after-school robotics is an opportunity for every student to go pro,” Hardister said, adding that this is a way to “prepare North Carolina students for the jobs of the 21st-century and make North Carolina the technology hub of the east coast.”

Saine also said this was a very positive move for the state’s workforce development.

“Schools should treat offsite academic events just like athletics,” Saine said.  “Robotics competitions develop our next generation of STEM leaders.  The odds of our young people working at SAS or IBM are much higher than [working in] the NFL or the NBA.”

Horn said that the skills learned through these types of competitions help make the students hirable after graduation, providing them with a competitive advantage in an evolving economy.

Those in the private sector also excited about the proposal.

Carrie Reeder, the director of corporate social responsibility for Collins Aerospace said: “Collin Aerospace, like many businesses in North Carolina, has a continuing need to attract new, highly skilled employees, many of whom will need advanced skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.  If we are to grow and prosper as a company and support the economic development of our state and communities, we must look for ways to partner with organizations such as FIRST North Carolina, in order to engage and prepare more of our young people to pursue STEM careers.”

FIRST North Carolina is a statewide non-profit that holds robotics competitions in addition to promoting education in other ways.

Marie Hopper, the president of FIRST North Carolina, said:  “To close the STEM skills gap and to empower our rural communities, we need schools, businesses and communities engaged and working together.  We are preparing our young people for an ever-changing and constantly evolving workforce.”