WHEN brake manufacturer FMP Group had trouble finding employees with engineering and IT skills, the Ballarat company decided to tap into an unlikely source - a local primary school.
FMP engineer Duncan Fumi figured the best way to capture the hearts and minds of the future workforce was via a mechanical device that has obsessed schoolboys for generations.
''I approached Haddon Primary School with the idea of making robots,'' said Mr Fumi, who wanted to demonstrate that seemingly abstract mathematical ideas had real world applications.
''Primary school students are at an age where they are not necessarily aware they're making decisions about their future, but things they really enjoy become things they later take on.''
Haddon Primary leapt at the opportunity. Last year Mr Fumi taught 15 year-5 boys how to make robots using model aeroplane servos connected to computer programmable boards.
The computer software was designed by a team of IT students from Ballarat University.
Kye Blomeley, 12, created Frankenbot, a balsa wood monster, which he reckons was the best thing he did in year 5. ''It can move 120 degrees each servo; it can move its legs past its arms and back,'' he said. ''Its head moves from side to side.''
Other robot designs included wizards, tanks, helicopters and even a golden dog called Lucky.
''It was testament to their creativity,'' Mr Fumi said.
Year 5/6 teacher Lucas McKay said the boys ''absolutely loved'' the robot classes. ''It had them focused the entire time, including the boys with behavioural issues who have trouble sitting still for 10 minutes in school.''
The Foundation for Young Australians has called for Australian businesses to do more to invest in the future workforce, following the release of a report into school-community partnerships.
The report, by the Australian Council for Educational Research, found only 20 per cent of school partnerships were with business, significantly less than international trends.
The most common partners with Australia schools were community groups, such as charities and rotary clubs.
Foundation for Young Australians chief executive Jan Owen said students thrived when businesses and community groups were involved in schools. ''What this research shows us is there is a need for industry, business and government to invest more heavily.'' Last year Haddon Primary won a $25,000 grant under the NAB Schools First program, which rewards outstanding school-community partnerships.
Mr McKay said the money went towards Lego kits with sensors that would enable the children to build more sophisticated robots.
The Boys and Robots pilot is now being taught to all year 5 and 6 students - including the girls. ''We were jealous last year,'' said Nikita Dubberley, who is building a Lego robot with her friend Emiley Cody. They intend to program the robot to sit up like a dog, moo like a cow and avoid furniture. ''When you clap, it will come to you,'' Emiley said.