High-tech advances in automation and robotics have led to the creation of a different kind of manufacturing employee. Instead of grunt work and labor on the production floor, employees need to have a working knowledge of IT, robotics, electronics, engineering and computer programming. As such, the manufacturing sector needs college graduates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM.
People with a background in STEM have the knowledge to understand the background of physical processes that create products from raw materials. Machines have to work properly to turn belts, levers and smaller components to keep lines moving. Manufacturers are more than willing to pay top dollar for people with the right amount of training, education and expertise to work in plants.
As automation becomes more advanced due to wireless technology, workers need to know how to connect machines to computers. Employees must also understand the coding behind the machines and the physical processes these machines accomplish. Plant workers fix and maintain these automated machines so the plant runs smoothly.
Why More Workers Now?
In 2014, manufacturers had 600,000 unfilled positions. Experts believe this number may grow to 2 million by 2025. Manufacturers have the money to fill these jobs but not enough workers to fill them. One of the main reasons cited is the lack of people with STEM training. In addition to working with machines, STEM candidates also have the necessary education to help research and development departments with new products.
Chemical and mechanical engineers work together to create innovative products for health care, pharmaceutical and electronics companies. These items reach consumers to improve the quality of life. Creating these products relies increasingly on innovative processes that merge various kinds of technology.
For example, a new wearable device that measures a person's heart rate needs to have research and development from both the medical and technology fields. The device should properly calibrate to a person's body while maintaining electrical power. The product may also have a wireless connection to a nearby smartphone or wireless network. The item needs a transmitter and the correct computer programming to connect to other devices. An employee with a background in STEM can help iron out any design difficulties with this product but also assist in the mechanical processes that put this new product together on an assembly line.
Innovation Moving Forward
Manufacturers also need workers with creativity and strong problem-solving skills to innovate new hardware and computer software. Innovation creates new products, new ways of doing things and more efficient manufacturing processes. Advanced tools, such as 3-D printers and on-demand manufacturing, offer two ways that innovation can change the way manufacturers create products for consumers. Students must become interested in the technology behind these processes early in life.
How to Solve the Problem
Unfortunately, many school children in the United States lag far behind other countries in terms of strong math and science skills. Experts within the manufacturing sector believe getting young people interested in STEM careers is one way to alleviate shortages 10, 20 and 30 years down the road. It starts with problem-solving skills in elementary school. When kids realize solving a problem with many variables is fun, they move on to more advanced STEM concepts. Instead of thinking of problem solving as a difficult challenge, kids can easily grab some tools and start working on a project.
For example, one school in Green Bay, Wisconsin, held an engineering and science summer camp that encourages kids to make cars out of paper and catapults out of spring-loaded mousetraps. These same teenagers created robots using computer software. A local paper interviewed enthusiastic parents who said their children did not want to leave camp at the end of the day.
Another solution for teens interested in a college-level education includes open online courses and formal university classes hosted online. Much like students who innovate new manufacturing processes, the educational programs that teach the students must also come up with creative ways to get students interested in STEM fields. Without interest from children in the present, manufacturers may find it hard to fill positions far into the future.
Manufacturing needs more STEM candidates to move into unfilled positions as soon as possible, but even more so in the coming decades. As more baby boomers retire, companies must find ways to innovate educational opportunities for kids so they remain interested in STEM careers later in life.
Photo Courtesy of Akeeris at FreeDigitalPhotos.net