News & Events

The Future of Manufacturing: Implications for Education and Training

In early October, the TA3 took on the challenging task of discussing and debating the future of manufacturing in the U.S. and Europe and the challenges it presents for community colleges. With manufacturing employment in decline, the status of America’s industrial base has become a frequent news item and risen to the top of many policy debates and agendas. While one camp hopefully anticipates manufacturing returning en masse, as Apple proclaimed for its laptops, another sees a long-term structural shift towards highly automated processes or very specialized products at reduced levels of employment. One point of general agreement was the shortage of skilled labor. Some blamed schools and antiquated views of the industrial workplace while others questioned the degree to which some industries were willing to pay more more highly skilled workers.

At the series of events hosted by Gateway Community and Technical College in Covington, Kentucky October 1-2, nearly 100 participants from 18 states and 6 European countries heard from a variety leaders from government, education, and industry. Sponsors of the event included the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, National Institute of Standards and Technology-Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Duke Energy, Republic Bank, Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and European-American Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the questions speakers were asked to address were: With expanding global competition, automation, and shifting consumer demand, what will regions with relatively high wage rates be able to make competitively in the years ahead? What are the short- and long-term prospects for the manufacturing base that has been so important to innovation and prosperity? What employment and entrepreneurial opportunities does the future hold? What skills and knowledge will be needed and what will the career paths be? Why are too few entering manufacturing career paths to replace an aging workforce?

While speakers and discussants represented a variety of places and interests, there was some convergence of opinion concerning the future of manufacturing. One was that manufacturing will continue to replace manual labor with automated equipment, keeping employment gains in manufacturing down but skill requirements up. Two of the speakers, Ted Hall of ShopBot and John Baines of Hahn Automation, produce automated equipment that require high levels of skill. They, and Phil Singerman from National Institute of Standards and Technology, discussed the need for greater investments in research and development and for more companies to adopt new technologies. John Winzeler from Winzeler Gears, a company that has been a pioneer in the use of automation, described how his company uses technology to produce high-volume, high-precision, zero defect gears.

A second theme was the increasing role of design and user-driven innovation. Lou Lenzi from GE Appliance talked about the importance of design, consumer behavior, and listening to the customer, and he described how their new Innovation Center works. George Konstantakis, president of Brooks Stevens in Wisconsin, explained how design thinking can achieve competitiveness, and Adam Friedman from the Pratt Institute described the value of conservation and how green design has influenced the industrial resurgence in New York. All saw an increasing consumer demand for green products and interests in sustainability.

Third, a number of speakers noted a growing interest in micro-manufacturing, and particularly the rise of additive manufacturing and accessibility of tools through shared facilities like Techshops. Ted Hall’s www.100kgarages.com is an effort to promote “garage” manufacturing as a “new ‘industrial’ revolution [with] social, open, distributed, local, small-scale, production.” Adam Friedman spoke about the rise of micro-manufacturing as an urban phenomenon and its growth in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. While a niche industry not likely to affect the manufacturing employment base, it does create a different image of manufacturing that can affect career plans and generate new products.

Fourth, as labor content decreases and design requirements increase, the value of proximity across the value chain increases. As geography matters more, companies will reduce their offshoring and look more to local suppliers. GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville is an example of production returning to the U.S.

The complementary strand of discussion was about skill and workforce needs. What skills, knowledge, and creativity will be needed in manufacturing? Again, a number of common themes were repeated.

A leading theme was better alignment of curricula with the needs of business and industry. One approach is expanded applications of apprenticeships and co-ops, as Hahn Automation does. Ross Meyer at Partners for a Competitive Workforce has formed Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships with industry, education, and non-profits to ensure alignment. A number of speakers representing community colleges described similar partnerships with industry clusters to achieve alignment with industry. Rebecca Nickoli of Ivy Tech talked about working with an orthopedics cluster and a power technology cluster, and Jeff Rafn from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College with a Marine Manufacturing Alliance. Dr. Rafn also set out the keys to success, which included create partnerships not contracts, demonstrate flexibility, create multiple lines of communications.

A second theme was a need for greater emphasis on skills that are conducive to innovation and design thinking. Lou Lenzi described GE’s approach to creative problem solving and systems design, George Konstantakis defined and explained design thinking,and Hanne Shapiro talked about the need to rethink delivery of technical education to produce creative as well as technically competent completers. Risto Raivio from the European Union saw vocational education becoming more academically oriented to produce more flexible graduates. John Winzeler has formed a partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to stimulate creativity in his work force. Gregg Bennett and Mike Hamm from the Alabama Technology Network, administered in part through community colleges, help make sure local companies have the skilled workforce to both support innovation and contribute to innovation.

A third area of discussion was the skills shortage, which seems to exist even in labor markets with high unemployment. Participants posed a number of reasons, from erroneous but popular impressions of the manufacturing workplace to reduced wages for jobs requiring higher skills. Nichola Lowe from the University of North Carolina argued that this narrow view of skill shortages often goes hand in hand with a growing educational bias that favors job seekers that have advanced degrees, often from four year institutions, and the assumption that skill is best acquired through formal education and undervaluing skills learned on the job.

Greg Rutherford at York Technical College in South Carolina addressed the shortage with an employer sponsored Tech Scholars program that matches half-time paid work with classroom-based education and results in a degree and possible job. Michael Gould added that Northern Ireland has to improve its completion rates to fill the pipeline to manufacturing with students that have the requisite STEM skills.

Fourth, the expanding opportunities for micro-manufacturing raises the level of need for entrepreneurship, highlighted by Ted Hall as a prerequisite for a “maker economy.” Jose Luis Maure described his agency’s support for entrepreneurs in schools of the Basque Country, from the skills, through business development and followup consulting and networking. Marjut Salminen also described a program at Tampere College in Finland for the fashion industry that integrated design with business and entrepreneurial skills.

Sustainability was a fifth theme, beginning with the work force, both to conserve energy and reduce waste but also to meet the employment needs associated with sustainability. Jeaninne La Prad discussed manufacturing innovations in energy and the environment and described a Frontline Green Worker certificate program and Hans Lehman talked about his college’s comprehensive approach to sustainability in southern Denmark.

A White Paper summarizing the discussions at the conference will be completed over the winter.

For full article and additional TA3 news, the new TA3 Connections, the newsletter of the Trans-Atlantic Technology And Training Alliance, is available at TA3’s website: http://www.ta3online.org/2012/08/22/ta3-connections-august-2012-volume-15-no-2/.