One theme running throughout the workshop was that in order for firms to benefit from technological advances, they need a skilled workforce, and the development of an advanced manufacturing workforce was one of the purposes listed in the legislation establishing the manufacturing institutes (RAMI Act, 2014). Many workshop speakers emphasized the need for workforce development measures in advanced manufacturing and the role that the manufacturing institutes can and do play in meeting this need. Speakers highlighted issues such as the need for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to have workers who understand the more advanced engineering concepts in advanced manufacturing processes; the need for additional workers with a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) background; and the need to provide more integrated training between technicians and engineers. In addition to providing a perspective of the U.S. manufacturing institutes, one speaker, Paul Lewis of King’s College London, brought an overseas perspective by providing information on education and workforce development activities at the U.K. Catapult Centres.
As Patrick Gallagher (University of Pittsburgh) mentioned in his opening remarks, manufacturing jobs have long been considered a pathway to middle-class prosperity. A number of researchers, however, recently have expressed concerns that technological change has led to a hollowing out of middle-skill and middle-class jobs because automation has led to jobs requiring either low or no skills–or very advanced skills. Erica Fuchs of Carnegie Mellon University discussed her recent work addressing these concerns, in which she has found that advanced manufacturing jobs actually require middle-level skills rather than polarizing skill demands (and wages).
Illustrating the concerns about training, Ira Moskowitz of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech) said that workforce development is the “number-one issue and the number-one problem” for small companies across Massachusetts, which cannot find enough skilled labor. In response to this, MassTech has awarded grants that enable institutes to partner
with vocational high schools and host new entrepreneurial ventures—many of which involve young people being first introduced to a technological area such as advanced functional fabrics. MassTech also awarded other grants like those to a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MassRobotics, General Electric, and other firms to fund the creation of a desktop teaching robot targeted at incumbent factory workers. Under that grant, factory workers with no technical background proceed through a series of cascading curricula and are brought to a level where they are considered to be roboticists and can maintain and program the industrial robots in their areas. Most of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s workforce programs are “stackable” between a local vocational high school, a nearby community college, and a local university, so that students can matriculate to a bachelor’s degree if they wish. Such a model, he said, amplifies the benefits of the regional focus of the collaborative’s efforts. Mr. Moskowitz lauded the NextFlex’s FlexFactor program as a successful workforce development program that he would like brought to Massachusetts.1
Lloyd Whitman of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) emphasized the priority the administration is placing on the STEM workforce because of its significance to critical sectors like advanced manufacturing. Dr. Whitman cited the urgency of addressing the loss of “vital skills in the domestic workforce,” calling it a challenge to the U.S. industrial base and to U.S. national security overall. He discussed the workforce development goals in the administration’s “Strategy for American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing” (Executive Office of the President, 2018), released in October 2018, which are focused on educating, training, and connecting the manufacturing workforce. Dr. Whitman also discussed the urgency the administration attaches to getting Americans to have basic STEM literacy in a changing technological landscape and emphasized the need to build a diverse, inclusive, and equitable STEM workforce with training accessible to all Americans.
Although these topics spanned the workshop, the discussion of education and workforce development centered on a panel moderated by James Woodell. The panel explored education and workforce development efforts at the Manufacturing USA institutes and how these efforts have helped realize the institutes’ goals of supporting industry needs and enabling competitiveness. Perspectives from institute representatives were complemented by user perspectives from industry.
According to Dr. Woodell, the institutes can create a market pull for advanced manufacturing techniques by providing education and training,
1 As described on the NextFlex website, FlexFactor is “a month-long program that exposes students to the vast range of professional opportunities within advanced manufacturing and innovation. This project-based learning approach is integrated into an existing classroom, regardless of subject, providing a complementary learning structure to support existing learning objectives. Small teams of students identify a human health- or performance-related problem, conceptualize a flexible hybrid electronic device to solve it, and package their concept into a viable business model.” The program began in California in 2016 and is now becoming available in locations in Ohio and Alabama. (NextFlex, 2018; NextFlex, 2019.)
especially to small and medium-sized manufacturers that may not be as familiar with technology or have the level of worker proficiency in these advanced technologies that the largest manufacturers possess. Lightweight Innovation For Tomorrow’s (LIFT’s) Emily DeRocco said that this pull is enhanced through institute partnering, which is essential to counter the large and growing skills gap. She described a partnership with AIM Photonics to create design centers for engineering students and incumbent workers to learn design skills and practices to “take back into their … workplaces.” The program would take photonic integrated circuits and lightweight metals from the conceptual stage to the production stage, and fill the need for design-level workers. She noted how earlier attempts at collaboration between institutes fell victim to inter-institute competition, and successful collaboration will need impetus at the national level through “significant national initiatives” in order to impact the education and workforce development space, which “has failed us” so far. She said that there was also an unclear understanding in the early days of the institutes of the extent to which they were supposed to include education and workforce development in their portfolio of work.
Kevin McComber and Nicolaus Rhenwrick, representing AIM Photonics Academy2 and Lockheed Martin, respectively, offered evidence of successful partnering among institutes, such as AIM Photonics Academy’s new 3-year partnership with Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) to establish technician certification programs in the integrated photonics space, and they explained the value of placing students and current workers in research projects and internships through collaborations between the institutes and firms. Dr. McComber described AIM’s role as a facilitator for firms interested in entering the integrated photonics space, and as an educator for firms already in that space. He cited AIM Photonics’ collaborations with other institutes like ARM, LIFT, and the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) to establish design centers that bring manufacturing concepts into production and their joint efforts to identify commonalities among each institute’s membership in order to better deliver value to their members. He lauded the FlexFactor program and indicated that AIM is in conversation with NextFlex about bringing the program to Massachusetts. He also described the importance of Lockheed Martin’s financial support for AIM Photonics’ Future Leaders Program, enabling exposure to photonics careers for students and reinforcing existing workers’ skills. Large firms such as Lockheed Martin recognize the value of programs like these in furtherance of their workforce goals. These comments complemented those from Ashland’s Joseph Fox, describing how his company has created partnerships with various IACMI members to allow interns to work on his company’s projects, gaining technical skills in the process. He also highlighted the institute’s integral role in hosting technicians and production workers at skills workshops around the country.
Mr. Rhenwrick characterized the value of AIM Photonics and other institutes to Lockheed Martin as filling a critical gap in the skilled workforce pipeline. The infrastructure that AIM Photonics has in order to “re-tool” and “reequip” workers, and to equip future technicians and engineers, complements Lockheed’s demand for a skilled technical workforce, he said, noting that a firm does not have the educational, certification, and training capabilities that the institutes have. Lockheed Martin sends more than 20 engineers to the AIM summer/winter academies to give them hands-on training to complement their theoretical expertise. Thus, the institutes help Lockheed Martin fill current and future skill needs. Mr. Rhenwrick said that Lockheed Martin has considered developing internal capabilities to train its staff but found better value in its partnerships with the institutes.
Rebecca Hartley and Patrick Hillberg, representing ARM and Siemens PLM Software, respectively, addressed aligning the small and medium-sized manufacturers more closely with the institutes and preparing the future manufacturing workforce. Dr. Hartley highlighted the positive effects of partnerships and educating manufacturing workers on companies’ balance sheets, echoing Nicolaus Rhenwrick’s point that firms, even large firms like Lockheed Martin, derive much return from their partnerships with the institutes in terms of employee training and credentialing. Dr. Hartley also discussed ways in which state manufacturing extension partnerships embedded at the institutes work with small and medium-sized manufacturers to get them to collaborate with large manufacturers and to learn best practices. She noted the importance of institutes partnering with state Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs) and thinking through how the institutes can support them.
Dr. Hartley emphasized the value of institutes providing digital learning tools to partner institutions like community colleges to train and certify new cohorts of technicians, who are sorely needed in the manufacturing workforce. Dr. Hartley cited ARM’s partnership with Greenville Technical College in South Carolina and that institution’s training of technicians to fill employment gaps at firms like BMW. Dr. Hillberg also acknowledged the role that virtual education spaces can play in enabling lower-cost, more accessible learning environments for students and for the incumbent workforce as well. He argued that the manufacturing institutes provide the infrastructure for these virtual spaces, which can be used for things such as virtualizing the lifecycle of a product from manufacture to disposal and for showcasing new technologies for small and medium-sized manufacturers and suppliers in a more affordable and accessible way. These virtual spaces in education teach “directly usable skills” for industry right now so that industry can lower its cost (of training workers), and virtual spaces lower the cost of advanced manufacturing education in schools. He said that the structural characteristics of large companies like his make it harder for them to engage with SMEs, so the institutes provide valuable networking opportunities.
The institutes can also explore roles in developing and licensing curricula for use in workforce development programs. LIFT has already
incorporated demonstration learning labs and self-designed curricula for use in schools as part of its sustainability strategy, according to Ms. DeRocco, thereby integrating itself into the education and workforce development ecosystem of the region it serves in Michigan. Conversations about workforce development need to take place alongside those about technology development. At LIFT, she said, technology teams have worked with educators to talk about emerging technologies, their significance in shaping the future workplace, and how they are changing lightweight materials; educators have then translated this into future needed competencies. Dr. Hartley indicated that ARM has formed a working group to explore what role it might play in licensing and developing curricula. Ms. DeRocco also said that America Makes, the Digital Manufacturing Institute (MxD), and LIFT have joined together to create a materials science curriculum—currently in testing in high schools in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois—that teaches skills that could eventually lead to a standards-based, nationally recognized credential.
Collaboration also is important between the national institutes and organizations with state and regional expertise, such as state manufacturers’ associations, to address workforce development. Ms. DeRocco emphasized that demand at the grassroots level is best for spurring education and workforce development. She cited the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association as a model organization for its convening power of small and medium-sized manufacturers, its established relationships with the state government, and its capacity to identify and link federal resources to state-wide initiatives. Speaking alongside Ms. DeRocco, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association’s Eric Burkland noted that workforce development activities by different organizations and programs are often overlapping and unaligned, posing a challenge for the manufacturing sector. An institute like LIFT, therefore, plays a key role in investing in the gaps in the workforce development system, creating an infrastructure for collaboration that overcomes the state’s decentralized approach to programming and funding.
Mr. Burkland added that the collaboration infrastructure among institutes and other stakeholders needs to be continually updated in order to build the demand for an educated workforce. He also commented that it is difficult to work with state databases and extract useful analytics from them, making it hard to identify outcomes or areas for improving the way outcomes are measured.
A number of participants noted that the burden of workforce development cannot fall only on the institutes. Responding to a question about what the institutes and MEPs are doing to prepare SMEs and the workforce for the next generation of technologies, Michael Garvey of M-7 Technologies shared an illustrative example of how his firm is using training modules to evaluate workers on their ability to handle design and technical work in anticipation of transitioning to more advanced manufacturing. Jennifer Hagan-Dier of the Tennessee MEP at the University of Tennessee said that the question of who will bear the costs for investing in workforce development is a perennial one, but small and medium-sized manufacturers themselves must realize that investing in their employees is essential to retaining them. Treating existing employees as assets
rather than as expenses, and getting them trained on leadership and soft skills, is essential to transitioning them for higher-skilled manufacturing activities in areas like robotics and health care. Moreover, workers cannot always be trained to either take advantage of or push out new technologies. According to Yoel Fink of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), “some of the biggest advances and the most exciting areas of innovation” are not necessarily where people are trained for a future skill but where qualitative indicators emphasize attitude, aptitude, resilience in the face of change and risk, and self-initiative.
Workforce development in the context of the institutes focuses on the technical aspects, but access to business training can be important in certain contexts. Jennifer Hagan-Dier cited programs at four-year universities like the University of Mississippi where engineers learn business skills and efforts at the University of Tennessee to put engineering students on the shop floor as interns. Yoel Fink of AFFOA cited the importance of involving people with business backgrounds in the institute’s project calls to execute unconventional business models that characterize new and innovative products coming out of its entrepreneurial member firms.
An international comparison was offered by Paul Lewis of King’s College, London, who discussed the U.K.’s Catapult centers and the role they play in technician skills and training there. Similar to their U.S. Manufacturing USA counterparts, the Catapult centers specialize in different areas of technology and link the private and academic research sectors. As nodes between industry and academia, the centers are “ideally placed” to know what skills and requirements are needed in industry as new technologies are introduced and adopted. In the U.K., there is a shortage of skilled technicians and an abundance of college-educated workers who enter into other types of positions for which they are overqualified. Because of the lack of skilled technicians, U.K. firms are unable to deploy new technologies efficiently; because of the existing mismatch between roles and expectations among over-qualified workers, firms experience high turnover and therefore cannot get good returns on their worker investments.
These labor supply problems have led to increased interest in apprenticeship training, according to Dr. Lewis. Apprenticeships involve young people receiving a structured program of on-the-job training and practical skills, coupled with significant off-the-job technical training. As a goal, apprentice training should be broad enough to facilitate entry into a variety of different firms in a particular industry and not be closely tailored to the specific requirements of an individual firm. Apprenticeship training, said Dr. Lewis, should be broad (at least two years in length) and allow formal certification upon completion. The length and breadth of training will produce a supply of skilled workers with extensive on-the-job training, more realistic expectations about their job, and an awareness of the industry-specific, high-performance standards that are critical in industry. Young people who realize that their employer is investing in them when they are training as apprentices will display loyalty to their employer afterwards, Dr. Lewis argued, and will not take their portable qualification to another firm, but instead will often use it as a pathway for promotion in their current job.
However, he acknowledged that firms have had difficulty setting up apprenticeship programs, especially in sub-fields like composites and materials science. Local colleges and universities may not offer curricula in certain in-demand fields and may not have the physical equipment and materials needed to teach industry best practices. This problem of locating training arises from the “tyranny of small numbers” where in any one geographical area, the absolute number of apprentices needing training is too small to persuade local education providers to offer the training in question.
To address this challenge and aggregate the demand for apprenticeships, Dr. Lewis proposed developing a small number of centers of excellence that offer the requisite training, locating them in areas of significant concentration of the relevant kind of manufacturer (in line with the regional focus discussed by Mr. Moskowitz) and ensuring that these centers offer virtual learning tools to increase the geographical reach of the training. The Catapult centers could play a critical role in establishing these new apprentice training centers. Existing facilities at the Catapult centers and other manufacturing institutes could be used for training, lowering the financial outlay and risk associated with establishing the new centers. Because of the Catapult centers’ work in process development and engagement with industry, the leadership of these centers, like that of the Manufacturing USA institutes, are ideally placed to know what the skills and educational requirements are for new technologies. As with Manufacturing USA’s LIFT consortium, the proposed centers would have teams of people working with employers to incorporate new skills and training requirements into syllabi, forming an institutional mechanism for developing training courses for soon-to-be-deployed technologies. The new centers would aggregate demand for apprenticeship training, helping to bridge the workforce skills gap in the U.K.
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