STEM Education, Meet The New Manufacturing

STEM education and the maker movement have flooded our nation’s schools, making project-based learning much easier to mark off of the instructional “must do” checklist toward meeting new criterion and readying students for a career. Our school districts are feeling the pressure to be innovative and find new ways to engage students with technology while adhering to the newly implemented Common Core Standards and ensure students are prepared for what happens following graduation. The buzz phrase these days is “21st century skills” — and students must have them.

But, I am forced to ask, what about the traditional career paths that have evolved with the changing face of technology, but whose general perception has lagged behind? Industries such as manufacturing continue to be misunderstood and believed to be dirty, grungy jobs for the under-educated, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Why are we not exposing students to these careers, which are not only available, but also are incorporating the latest technology?

The manufacturing of today includes advanced manufacturing design, automation and innovation of both hardware and software. It requires a high level of expertise and critical thinking. In addition, manufacturers are willing to pay for their employees to receive a higher education.

And you better believe there will be a job readily available for those interested. Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, but the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled. The greatest shortage currently is in employees with technology and computer skills.

I previously worked for a school district in a public relations role highlighting all the worthwhile projects our teachers were implementing in the classroom. If you had mentioned to me that we should be introducing our students to a career in manufacturing, I would have balked or judged, believing those jobs were only for “certain” students.

After working for the past month with SWPA BotsIQ, a regional high school robotics competition through the National Robotics League whose mission is to get students involved in manufacturing careers, I am embarrassed of my preconceived notions of this career path and the people who work in the industry.

I have taken tours of facilities like Hammill Manufacturing and I have had the opportunity to speak with manufacturing industry leaders, as well as high school educators and students looking toward a future in the field. I have read news articles and the latest research, as well as become aware of recent advances in manufacturing, and my eyes have been opened.

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