Here at AMT, we often talk about the smartforce – the next generation of advanced manufacturing professionals who will drive the industry in years to come. As the baby boomer generation heads toward retirement, and our industry faces a persistent shortage of skilled workers, developing this new talent pool becomes increasingly urgent.
One important message that is part of the smartforce initiative is that of education. Yes, advanced manufacturing careers require critical thinking skills, and they require a solid technical education. But it doesn’t require the traditional four-year degree and its accompanying financial burden. Additionally, it’s important as a culture to admit that not every kid is a great fit for a four-year bachelor’s degree program. That doesn’t mean that they are “stupid” or somehow flawed. It merely means that it’s important to explore different paths of education and different types of careers.
But perhaps, at the end of the day, we as a culture should reexamine what we define as “success.” Why is it somehow considered shameful for a student to consider a career that doesn’t fit society’s picture of high achievement? Sure, we do need physicians and attorneys and astrophysicists, but we also need people to fill the many “other” professions of the world – those that are hands-on, those that are creative, those that maybe don’t require a framed degree from a famous university, but are no less important.
One student recently took matters into her own hands by writing a letter to her high school principal. In the high-pressure Washington, DC suburbs, Maddy King discussed how educators and administrators often want to focus their attention on the top students (the overachievers) and the lowest performers (the flunkies), but very little attention is given to those in the middle – the “middlemen,” as King calls them. It’s well worth the read.
Her letter perfectly makes the point that maybe this emphasis on “success at all costs” (at least, society’s definition of it) is damaging to students and emphasizes a very narrow path to worthiness. It’s a great look at making a cultural shift from focusing merely on high achievement and instead allowing for more flexibility, and, at the bottom of it all, happiness.