Manufacturing Education: A National Priority
Progress is underway in addressing the nation’s skilled workforce crisis, with strategic investments, scholarships, partnerships and more
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
“Manufacturing education is in crisis.”
Almost a year ago, SME published a white paper, “Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy,” that began with that sentence.
At the time, as many as 600,000 US manufacturing jobs were estimated to be unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers—a shortage largely blamed on the nation’s slipping position in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
The report noted that if the United States is to maintain its leadership in manufacturing—a sector that produces $1.7 trillion in goods, makes up nearly 12% of the GDP and employs 9% of Americans—the crisis in STEM and manufacturing education must be corrected. SME recommended that educators, industry, professional organizations and government work together to:
- Attract more students into manufacturing by promoting the availability of creative, high-tech jobs and giving students a strong STEM foundation.
- Articulate a standard core of manufacturing knowledge to guide the accreditation of manufacturing programs and certification of individuals.
- Improve the consistency and quality of manufacturing curricula to better prepare students for manufacturing employment.
- Integrate manufacturing topics into STEM education to expose more students to manufacturing concepts.
- Develop faculty that can deliver a world-class manufacturing education in spite of a growing number of challenges.
- Strategically deploy existing and new resources into STEM and manufacturing education programs.
Progress Being Made
It’s difficult to believe it’s been less than a year since that report was published: Much has happened since then. Nearly every day, the news headlines trumpet reports about the challenge: Even Miss America is talking about it. Seriously: In May, Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, who started her university career as a biomedical science student, told the Salt Lake Chamber that not enough children are being exposed to STEM fields.
“We can do that by showing them the really cool careers that come out of STEM,” Hagan said, according to an article in the Desert News. With attention like that, more and more are being exposed to the STEM possibilities, especially in manufacturing.
From Wentworth Institute of Technology’s new $3 million manufacturing center in Boston to a new automated manufacturing and machining scholarship at Penn State, advanced manufacturing has moved up the nation’s priority list.
President Barack Obama on May 9 announced a competition for three new manufacturing innovation institutes, where $200 million would be committed across five federal agencies—defense, energy, commerce, NASA and the National Science Foundation—to build off the successful National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute pilot in Youngstown, Ohio.
The Department of Defense will lead two of the new institutes, focused on “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation” and “Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing,” and the Department of Energy will be leading one new institute on “Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing.” In all, the President has called on Congress to act on his proposal for a one-time $1 billion investment to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation institutes across the country.
The model is based on approaches that other countries have successfully deployed. Each institute is to serve as a regional hub designed to bridge the gap between basic research and product development, bringing together companies, universities and community colleges, and federal agencies to co-invest in technology areas that encourage investment and production in the US.
This type of innovation infrastructure provides a unique “teaching factory” that allows for education and training of students and workers at all levels, while providing the shared assets to help companies—most importantly small manufacturers—access the cutting-edge capabilities and equipment to design, test and pilot new products and manufacturing processes.
Others Take Action
Outside of the federal efforts, others are investing at the state level and beyond. Take the state of Virginia. At its Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), located just south of Richmond, business and higher education sit down at the same table to tackle R&D challenges. Industry sets the agenda, and top academic and industry researchers pursue it in CCAM or university labs. The goal is to provide significant R&D efficiencies through pooled resources and to rapidly accelerate the transfer of innovations to the factory floor where they can improve operations, products and profits.
Industry members—including Rolls-Royce, Newport News Shipbuilding, Aerojet, Canon Virginia, Chromalloy, Sandvik Coromant, Siemens and Sulzer Metco—are joined by Virginia research and teaching institutions, including the University of Virginia, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech.
Another large area of growth has been partnerships between manufacturers, their equipment suppliers and local schools to develop their own workforces.
From Fitzpatrick Manufacturing Co., a 60-year-old CNC job shop in Sterling Heights, MI, to Mastercam University in Tolland, CT, to the Ahaus Apprenticeship Program in Richmond, IN, companies are growing their own skilled workers to get the job done.
SME a Trailblazer
The SME Education Foundation (SME-EF) is also involved in developing and supporting a number of efforts, including:
- Computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) courses, in conjunction with the Project Lead The Way curriculum.
- CareerME.org, a Web site designed by the National Center for Manufacturing Education.
- ManufacturingIsCool.com, an award-winning, interactive Web site that engages students in basic engineering and science principles and provides resources for teachers.
- The Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) program, which provides a community-based approach to manufacturing education.
- The Edge Factor Show, a program designed to change the image of manufacturing by giving a fun inside look at advanced manufacturing technology.
All of these excellent programs and initiatives need continuing support and engagement by educators, industry, professional organizations and government. ME
This article was first published in the July 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.