30 Under 30: Catherine Ross
National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)
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She may not be an engineer and she may not have a role in building any actual parts or products, but Catherine Ross received a flurry of nominations for her work in helping to attract and develop a competent manufacturing workforce for the future.
Importantly, she is a strong reminder that important manufacturing work sometimes happens far from the factory floor.
Catherine holds a degree in sociology from George Mason University and is director of accreditation for the National Institute of Metalworking Skills. She joined NIMS in 2008 with some old (dirty, dangerous) ideas about manufacturing that were quickly turned on their head. “It has been one long learning experience,” Catherine said of her time at NIMS. “All year long, there are new advances.” She describes the modern manufacturing facilities with which she is now acquainted as “some of the cleanest, safest facilities I’ve ever had the opportunity to experience.”
Catherine now promotes the field of advanced manufacturing to students, teachers and parents, and helps to connect education to industry in important ways through a variety of programs and outreach efforts.
Her primary role at NIMS is overseeing the nation’s sole accrediting body for training programs in precision machining. Under her direction since 2009, more than 120 training programs have been accredited and no less than 135 training programs have applied for accreditation.
One of the Catherine’s important projects is marketing and organizing the three national-level SkillsUSA contests for CNC milling, CNC turning and precision machine technology. “We’re seeing more and more students in the national contests,” Catherine said. “It’s definitely growing.” She enjoys seeing an increasing number of women at the national level, which means they beat out their male peers at the state.
She also coordinated the AMT-sponsored Student Summit at IMTS in 2012, where attendance exceeded 9,000. The event was designed to introduce young people to STEM-related careers in industry. Similarly, she coordinated Student Day at PMTS.
Catherine also participates in industry’s educational events, through efforts such as Haas HTEC Network Regional and National Conferences and Sandvik Coromant’s Bridging the Skills Gap series.
She believes this is important work that can make a difference long term. “A close tie to local industry and employer and trade associations can make a world of difference,” she said. “Employers can tell educators exactly what they need.”
Through her varied efforts, Catherine sees a whole host of things that can be done to improve the image of manufacturing and make sure it’s a career path that talented students at least consider. Students, she said, seem most engaged by 3D printing, robotics, manufacturing software and computer-aided design. If you can get a student to design something in CAD, she observed, you can attract them into learning how to make it with a combination of technical and theoretical training. Catherine said her goal for the future is to continue strengthening ties between education and industry. Said Catherine: “I do plan to stay in this industry and with NIMS. … The longer I’ve been here, the more capable I’ve become.” ME