While a large part of meeting that challenge involves changing perceptions among young people about the industry, another problem is that manufacturing education isn’t necessarily keeping pace with the needs of modern manufacturers.
Randy Swearer, vice president of global education experiences for the company Autodesk, told IndustryWeek that the current manufacturing education system is “still stuck in the old Industrial Age of metalworking and welding.” That skilled trade gap could be partly fueled by a disconnect between what’s being taught in schools and what’s happening in manufacturing facilities. “It doesn’t place enough emphasis on smart, connected product manufacturing, advanced material development and digital design integration,” says Swearer.
The problem starts with the fact that manufacturing curriculums are still “taught from textbooks” and often lack real world learning experiences, says Swearer. He says the workforce needs more hands-on opportunities in the educational system, a stronger focus on the real-world application of skills, more partnerships between businesses and schools, and the development of “microcredentialing” programs for students and employees. “They miss out on the exciting part, and don’t really understand what manufacturing is like on a day-to-day basis,” says Swearer.
Because manufacturing technology is changing so rapidly, Swearer says there’s a big gap between what students learn in a classroom and what employers need. Swearer says this gap will only close if universities take a “bold approach” to redefine success beyond letter grades and in the real development of skills. He encourages students to publish work in e-portfolios so that they have something to show outside of the classroom.
Swearer says educational programs not only should encourage students to pursue new skills, but also should allow them to earn digital badges or microcredentials to highlight their competence to potential employers. While schools offer many post-secondary credentials, there isn’t yet a standardized set criteria of vetting for such credentials. The Connecting Credentials campaign launched by the Luminus Foundation last year is currently serving as a framework for schools, businesses and labor groups to engage in a national dialogue for creating a more connected and transparent system to define credentials.
“We need to transform today’s fragmented post-secondary landscape into one that is student-certified and learning-based so the meaning of credentials is clearer to employers and students,” Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation said in a press release.