Teen race car driver promotes manufacturing careers

17-year-old Brennan Palmiter motivates youth to follow their passion

February 24, 2009
By: Traci Tapani

Need help motivating young people in your area to train for manufacturing careers? Want to get them fired up about pursuing their passions? Seven Minneapolis technical schools turned to race car driver Brennan Palmiter to help them accomplish these missions. They are glad they did.

Brennan Palmiter Meeting

Figure 1 Race footage in Brennan's presentation drew attention to messages on ethics and values.

When Brennan Palmiter started racing go-carts at age seven, no one knew it was the beginning of an obsession. When he moved up to stock cars at 13, he discovered his obsession was expensive: fender-benders meant repairs. So he learned welding.

That skill won him the attention and eventual sponsorship of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl. (FMA), and its award-winning magazine Practical Welding Today®.

Earlier this year in his role as FMA's young spokesperson, Brennan toured seven Minneapolis-area technical schools, giving motivational presentations to interest youth in metal fabricating as a career. His stops were Anoka Technical College, St. Paul College, Hennepin Technical College, Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, St. Cloud Technical College, and Pine Technical College.

While his audience at Hennepin and MCTC were current tech school students, the other five stops hosted hundreds of high school students bused in for the occasion. They were treated to a multimedia presentation that included footage of high-speed races and the occasional smash-up. The message was clear: Focus:Follow your passion and don't let anyone steal it from you. Passion:Practice to be the best you can be. And Integrity: Don't waste time in"the pits."

Brennan's school tour was coordinated by Garry Bultnick, V.P. sales and marketing for Manufacturing Success Upper Midwestmagazine, in conjunction with its Minneapolis event, the Great Manufacturing Get Together.

Garry observed that many of the kids at Brennan's presentations were wearing NASCAR® jackets and t-shirts and, at the follow-up Q&A, revealed themselves to be real"motorheads."

"They were testing him, asking some pretty tough questions. Brennan blew them away," Garry said."Some of his answers were quite technical and a little over their heads. They were impressed."

In attendance at Pine Technical College were the dean of students and the college president who, according to Garry, expressed amazement at the large draw of excited students.

"We've been trying for years to get kids interested in the manufacturing industry and it didn't seem like anything was working," Garry said."But then I saw Brennan at FABTECH (the annual tradeshow FMA co-sponsors) in Las Vegas, and he gave me hope about reaching young people. We can't wait to get him back again, and neither can the instructors at the colleges."

Garry's wife, Debra, works for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, focusing on work force development for the manufacturing sector.

There are three sides, she has found, to work force development: First, the schools knowing what skills employers are looking for. Second, public awareness of the great job opportunities available in manufacturing. And third, employers eager to get new people coming into the work force.

"To have Brennan talking to high school kids there at the tech colleges where they could tour the manufacturing labs was a huge advantage. The students were exposed to opportunities they weren't seriously considering because they didn't know much about them."

Despite his advanced skills—he's proficient in four types of welding—Brennan is young enough that his audience easily identified with him.

"They'd been hearing in the news about the demand for welders, then they hear about this 17-year-old who is into it. So, many of them came out of curiosity," Debra explained."But soon they were hanging on every word. Brennan has a kind of rock star status," she said, adding,"especially with the girls."

Dave Fitzgerald is lead welding instructor at St. Paul College, where the welding lab is both the largest in the state—they go through $1,500 in steel each week—and the most high-tech, with new equipment and a state-of-the-art ventilation system.

However, the technology isn't necessarily Dave's favorite part of the job. He prefers teaching first- and second-semester students with whom he can focus on attitude, retention, and placement.

"Brennan did a great job instilling ethics and good values. He talked about how cheating sets you back in life—and he got the message across without lecturing. He used racing terms and stressed the importance of staying out of the pits, like drugs and other trouble, or even just a lack of goals."

Dave also sits on the college's marketing committee and says it's been hard to interest the St. Paul school district in"the dirty word called vocational education. Shop is one of the high-expenditure programs they've cut from the curriculum. So it was great having a unique draw in Brennan as a way to give students the exposure to the trades they're no longer getting in the schools."

Brennan wrapped up all his presentations with his YouTube video promoting"GO-Brennan" Scholarships. The FMA-sponsored program features twice-yearly offerings of $500 scholarships for courses in metal fabrication at a trade school or community college. Applicants complete no forms; they simply film a video response and upload it to Brennan's YouTube page. (Application deadline for the current round is April 3. Go to www.YouTube.comand enter search terms Go Brennan Scholarships Lap Three.)

In attendance at Minneapolis Community and Technical College was Matt Doughty, a welding major working toward his Associate in Applied Science degree. Matt's tuition has been offset this semester by a"GO-Brennan" Scholarship he won last fall, and he was excited to be meeting Brennan for the first time.

"Brennan was very helpful in leading us in different directions as far as welding opportunities beyond the economy," said Matt."His presentation gave us a real boost. We're all college students, but we range from high school up to age 40 or so, and Brennan just has a way with getting his point across. He's young and he's very goal-oriented. So it was helpful, it was very useful. And a great experience, too—it was cool getting my picture taken with him!"

Learn more about NBT programs and scholarships atwww.NutsAndBoltsFoundation.org.

Traci Tapani

Contributing Writer
Wyoming Machine, Inc.
Stacy, MN
She is also a member of the Board of Directors of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs: The Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl. (FMA).