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Focus on the Workforce: The Society and Its Workforce-Development Efforts

Mark C. Tomlinson 

It's no secret that manufacturing is changing. The US is currently facing one of its greatest financial crises ever. The Big Three are in dire straits. Plants are closing daily, and a record number of skilled workers are losing their jobs. During this turbulent time, SME is committed to helping manufacturing practitioners and companies address their most critical competency gaps. The Society is also very dedicated to filling the pipeline with the next generation of talented engineers and skilled manufacturing practitioners.

Over the last two decades, manufacturers have worked hard to keep pace with the constant changes in technologies, products, and processes being utilized in industry today. It is no longer enough to beat out the local competition, because other competitors are now located halfway around the world, willing to work longer hours for half as much money, and with fewer government regulations. Regardless of the size of the company or industry involved, the rate of change has been unrelenting and continues to evolve exponentially, requiring future manufacturing practitioners to have an entirely new set of skills and techniques, including critical thinking, problem solving, and a flexibility that allows them to change when and where required. Embracing an attitude of lifelong learning will be a deciding factor between success and failure. Ultimately, maintaining your competitive position in the global economy demands a workforce with post-secondary credentials and a capacity to work in a high-technology environment.

Manufacturing is critically important to the vibrancy of every country, and could be considered a national security issue in the US if it is not nurtured and sustained. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that, in the 21st century, manufacturing employment as a share of the total workforce is going to decline by 10.6% (or 1.5 million jobs), mainly in repetitive manufacturing jobs. Employment in advanced manufacturing, however, has risen by 37% (Federal Reserve Bank of NY, February/March 2006). For example, employment in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing is expected to grow by 23.8% and add 69,000 new jobs by 2016. The aerospace and defense industry has a backlog of production that extends to 2030, requiring continuous upkeep of their workforce. Transportation will continue to grow and change, requiring a workforce that is flexible, knowledgeable, and focused on their deliverables. Obviously, in light of these trends, it's essential that the current workforce be able to transition into high-skill, high-wage, high-demand positions.

During this time of transition and opportunity, SME remains committed to helping manufacturing practitioners and companies address their most critical competency gaps. As a membership organization, the Society is dedicated to supporting the transfer of knowledge between industry and workers. SME and its Education Foundation (SME-EF) are working hard to build a strong pipeline for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Since 2006, SMEEF has established three different youth programs: Gateway Camp, Gateway Academy, and the SME Institute. These programs have been further enhanced with SME-EF's partnership with Project Lead the Way (PLTW). PLTW's curriculum provides a continuum of education and opportunities to get young people excited about science and technology.

SME provides further support for SME-EF by leveraging our professional relationships in academia with its Manufacturing Education and Research Community. This community integrates educational innovation and industry requirements so that the education delivered at the community college and university level is relevant to industry needs. SME, along with our members and industry partners, works to build and enhance human capital, which is one of the most important elements for growth. Recruiting, training, and retaining an advanced workforce are mandatory for future growth and success. Through the following programs, SME is able to provide the right education and training for both new and incumbent workers:

  • Certifications—Certificates
  • Events that highlight emerging technologies
  • Conferences presenting new/evolving processes, procedures, and materials
  • Professional development
  • Online
  • Hybrid
  • Private/Public

With this type of assistance and training, the incumbent workforce and entry-level workers will succeed in advanced manufacturing, and become a workforce that has both repetitive and technical skills, such as the expertise needed to run a three-axis machining center. This future-based approach to training ensures that SME is supporting everyone, from the up-and-coming manufacturing practitioner to the transitioning worker, in their endeavors. SME's Mission is "To advance manufacturing knowledge." In doing so, we will ensure that manufacturing is alive and thriving for many years to come.

Bart A. Aslin       

Finding the New Workers 

The SME Education Foundation believes that career development begins at an early age. There are a myriad of factors that influence children as they grow into adulthood, but education is universally recognized to be a major factor that can open doors to future success in the workforce.

With nearly 75 million baby boomers set for retirement, now, more than ever, technically skilled workers are in high demand. SME-EF is working hard to address these critical needs through its Web sites, youth programs, and scholarships.

Since its inception in 1979, SMEEF has awarded more than $25 million to colleges, universities, K-12 school districts, students, and educators throughout North America. The grants are made as part of a comprehensive plan to inspire, support, and prepare students for rewarding careers in manufacturing.

In 2006, the Foundation joined with Project Lead the Way (PLTW; to launch Gateway Academy, a one-week hands-on learning experience that is designed to introduce middle school students to the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Following the hands-on experience, students are then placed into the PLTW coursework at the middle school and high school level. In 2008, 179 camps in 26 states introduced over 4400 students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

According to a 2005 Skills Gap Report, more than 80% of US manufacturers report an overall shortage of qualified employees. This can be changed by educating young people in STEM, providing them with information about the manufacturing world, and allowing them to experience beneficial opportunities, such as these summer camps.

And the SME Education Foundation is doing its part to make manufacturing 'cool.' In addition to camps and scholarships, SMEEF hosts "Manufacturing is Cool" (, an interactive Web site whose goal is to inspire preteens and teens to pursue careers in engineering and manufacturing.

The site encourages children to be original thinkers, gives them an inside look at how everyday objects are designed and produced by engineers, and provides information about camps, scholarships, and engineering-related programs at universities and institutions located around the country.

The SME Education Foundation's commitment to workforce development has attracted the collaboration of educational institutions, businesses, and other like-minded organizations who are dedicated to providing educational opportunities for all Americans. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), 60% of employers are forced to reject half of all applicants because they lack one or more basic skill. SME-EF is working hard to change this by inspiring, supporting, and preparing today's youth for future careers in a high-tech manufacturing world.


This article was first published in the January 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 1/1/2009

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