By Greg Jones
AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology
This article first appeared in its entirety in the August 2013 issue of AMT News.
In addition to the effort that we are putting into changing perceptions about careers in manufacturing, there are national efforts in place to rebuild the educational infrastructure we have in the United States.
For our industry, we must present the impression that “it’s not your father’s — or your grandfather’s — manufacturing industry anymore.” You can take a good step forward by inviting the general public into your facilities and educating them about advanced technologies and automation currently in use. They can see that manufacturing today takes place in clean, brightly lit environments, not somewhere dirty and dingy. Consider hosting students from your local high schools and middle schools to give them a look at what the industry is really like!
As an industry, we have to be working directly with the schools in our local communities to encourage the development of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) academies where they don’t already exist, to encourage jump-starting machine trade or vocational programs where they have languished and to develop new apprenticeship or internship programs for young people in partnership between manufacturers and their local educational institutions.
On a national level, in addition to placing a greater emphasis on STEM, we must assure that there will be a sufficient number of educated and qualified young people who will choose to make a lifelong career out of teaching math and science.
Raising education’s level of quality in the K-12 years is key, as well as improving post-secondary education and displaced worker training initiatives.
The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report on five “Game Changers” that would have a dramatic impact on U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) if the proper focus could be applied to improvements in the areas of Energy, Trade, Big Data, Infrastructure and Talent. For Talent, the McKinsey report suggests four key initiatives that can be made to produce more individuals who are ready to work in careers that have good job prospects now and in the future.
The first of these initiatives is expanding the number of apprenticeships and non-degree training programs that give people marketable skills and credentials. While some apprenticeship programs still exist, and a number of AMT member companies have very effective programs in place, many more are needed throughout the country. AMT is currently modeling the European-style dual training programs to create a roadmap for member companies to develop an in-house program working with schools in their local area.
For credentialing, AMT is a stakeholder in the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), an organization that accredits secondary and post-secondary education programs in advanced manufacturing technology and provides credentials for job functions like CNC machinist, production technician, field service technician and others. Credentials are important for young people, for displaced workers and for military veterans who are returning from active duty because they provide a portable and identifiable certification of their knowledge and capabilities.
Second, the McKinsey report favors efforts to improve learning and labor market outcomes for graduates of secondary and postsecondary education programs by providing better information about career pathways so that students can choose from the most appropriate programs that could also lead to better college completion rates than we are currently experiencing. AMT supports a method of encouraging students to begin their educational career in an advanced manufacturing technology program at a community college as a way to provide a viable education to career pathway option for students at a lower overall cost with better overall outcomes.
Third, the McKinsey report encourages a focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees to develop a workforce that is capable of the critical thinking that is necessary to “doing the calculations needed for modern manufacturing processes or interpreting the data that drives the economy.” In the past year or so, STEM has transitioned from acronym to action and has a firm hold on the national consciousness. This philosophy to develop better STEM programs is encouraging more students to get serious about STEM earlier in their education.
Finally, the report encourages U.S. policymakers to rethink its immigration policy to attract and retain talent from around the world by increasing the number of H-1B visas. This will have the net impact of allowing more international students who study and earn a degree in STEM in the United States to remain here after graduation, and likely provides greater advantage to industries and start-ups in Silicon Valley than to our industry in discrete parts manufacturing.
We have to start with the fundamentals, and the debate of our Common Core standards is at the forefront of our ability to assure that we have the K-12 curriculum and teachers in place to produce the workers who are needed now and in the longer view.