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Cultivating and investing in your greatest assets: people

Nagi G. Naganathan President Oregon Institute of Technology,
By Nagi G. Naganathan President, Oregon Institute of Technology,

FIELD INTELLIGENCE: Smart Processes, Solutions & Strategies

The current COVID-19 experiences have energized many conversations about our futures in the post-COVID world, and that includes the future of manufacturing. Even before COVID, many conversations focused on bringing manufacturing back to our shores and whether we have the right workforce for that.

This is particularly relevant today as industries and post-secondary institutions reimagine their futures.

As a university professor, I taught subjects such as design for manufacturing and assembly, which focused on erasing the disconnects between two critical processes toward efficient manufacturing.

As we reenvision higher education’s contributions to the future workforce, we must also look at doing away with disconnects that prevent a seamless, innovative technical education.

Career technical schools and technology-focused community colleges graduate outstanding young talent. But in many instances, the graduates and industries are not aware of the many advancement opportunities that await them through universities and industry-university partnerships.

Complimentary reviews of seamless technical education models in Europe are common—but without sufficient follow-through stateside.

At Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon’s polytechnic university, we are committed to changing this landscape. We are engaged with manufacturers as the host university and facility owner of the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center R&D (OMIC R&D).

Modeled after the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Sheffield, England, OMIC R&D is a membership organization where manufacturers work with university researchers to solve actual industry problems. Now with 35 members—including Blount, Boeing, Daimler, Mitsubishi Materials, Sandvik Coromant, Silver Eagle, Vigor and WFL—in just three years, OMIC R&D members collaborate with university faculty and students to quickly find, and help apply, solutions.

The collaborative is training engineering students with research opportunities and career connections. The collective works because all parties—industry, higher education, government, and philanthropy—share the responsibility.

But how do we attract more young talent to these opportunities?

Last year, a visit to the Career Technical Education Center in Salem, Oregon, reinforced my belief that we can be collectively intentional about growing our manufacturing talent from the ground up.

During my visit, I was hoping to be impressed by their curriculum in machining. But the breadth of talent among these gifted young students learning business development to drone technology to video game design far exceeded that.

How do we keep such pipelines alive and vibrant?

It starts much earlier.

One might say that there is no return on investment in helping just a few students. Actually, even with a small investment, you can make a big difference.

Grant your local high school $500 to purchase a new piece of equipment or fund a robotics team.

At higher levels, fund advanced machinery or help outfit a laboratory at your local higher education institution.

These investments are equivalent to paying for risk insurance to protect your organization against future unknowns.

If you had doubts about the next generation’s talent, you won’t once you and your organization work closely with high school and college students. Try it. It is your future-talent insurance.

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