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Focusing on the Workforce

Dianne Chong
By Dianne Chong The Boeing Company (retired), 2022 SME President, SME Member Since 1997

AS THE 2022 SME president, I hope to build on the successes of my predecessors with a particular emphasis on workforce development and especially the workforce itself.

When I joined SME in 1997, I was part of the Accreditation and Education Committee. I was extremely impressed by the work that was done to define the educational needs of the profession and how SME is also looked at to provide educational programs that would address future needs.

SME has always represented the profession well and been at the forefront of preparing the manufacturing workforce, whether it’s defining curricular content for manufacturing engineering and manufacturing engineering technology, certification and licensure preparation or customized coursework from Tooling U-SME. So why should we be concerned about the workforce?

Through my work with ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc.), I have observed that the number of manufacturing engineering programs has decreased. This signals to me that the amount of interested applicants has decreased enough to discontinue offering these programs.

What is our role in this? I believe that with all that SME has to offer in the preparation of a solid manufacturing workforce, we must increase our role in outreach and retention of the current and future workforce.

As I was writing my first SME president’s message, a quote from James Comer, MD, author of “No Child Left Behind,” came to mind. Dr. Comer stated that “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” In our case, learning about manufacturing and appreciating the role of manufacturing in improving the quality of life for all requires a significant relationship. We, SME, are in a great position to offer that significant relationship.

Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of the lifecycle of a manufacturing professional, going from K to gray. SME needs to understand the entire value stream of manufacturing professional development. We need to understand those areas where we are active and what the impacts of these activities are on the attraction and retention of manufacturing professionals. SME also needs to identify the areas where outreach is needed and determine how best to do this. Benchmarking other organizations such as NAE’s EngineerGirl, ASM’s K-12 teacher grants and others can help SME adapt.

Part of building our relationship with each part of the value stream includes a clear understanding of what SME means and offers to people at different parts of the value stream. Too often we assume that others understand the value the same way we do; this is not true. We need to understand different groups’ needs and demonstrate how SME provides the opportunities to advance their professional development and serves as the gateway to future opportunities. We need to emphasize that SME represents the manufacturing profession in multiple respects, and that it’s not just a “club.”

When we reach out to various groups to help them understand their potential for manufacturing careers, we need to ensure that we understand the needs of underserved groups and what matters to them. My experience in reviewing essays from elementary school girls from underserved communities shows that they are very interested in developing solutions for the basic needs of society, such as the Grand Challenges, and that this continues into high school. These students are ready to learn more about the manufacturing profession and the roles they could have in it.

Finally, when we move out of the pandemic, we need to understand the impact it has had on our workforce. Many in manufacturing have had to deal with this firsthand. It’s not just the realization of what we used to call the “silver tsunami;” all parts of our businesses have been impacted.

In addition to this, our educational institutions have worked very hard to ensure that students receive the instruction they need to prepare them for the marketplace. Many in industry and academia have related that there is a “loss” when the in-person component is not there. Side conversations, mentoring, and ad-hoc questions that contribute to the learning process are lacking. SME needs to learn from the impact that the pandemic has had and incorporate this into our preparation of the future workforce.

As outlined above, our current and future workforce is a priority for me as SME’s president this year, and I look forward to tackling these and other concerns throughout my presidency. I also look forward to continuing to work closely with our volunteer leaders and executive team and meeting many of you in person throughout 2022.

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