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New Education Trends Help To Advance Manufacturing Skills

By Ideas Lab Staff June 19, 2013

Trends in education programs have emerged in an effort to train future workers in manufacturing and other STEM fields.

While the Obama administration has taken measures to improve the advanced manufacturing sector through programs such as the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, the federal government isn’t the only entity contributing to the sector. Several smaller unique and lesser-known initiatives centered on education are also aiming to improve the industry by encouraging training and learning in STEM-related fields.

These programs from schools, trade organizations and entrepreneurs tap into top trends in education in an effort to bolster interest in manufacturing and other STEM areas.

Their efforts can help to address the skills gap created due to a number of factors including the increasing complexity of manufacturing jobs and the aging workforce in the manufacturing sector.

Specialized Academies of Innovation

The Kenton County School District in Kentucky has created the Academies of Innovation & Technology as part of a “pilot program designed to get more high school students to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing,” according to the program’s website.

Students enrolled in these academies are able to take advantage of unique opportunities such as specialized internships and apprenticeships in the field of their defined career path. There are separate academies for biomedical sciences, sustainable energy, high performance production, engineering, media arts and informatics.

Eric Floyd, a participant of the High Performance Production Technology Academy, said in a recent article, “When somebody said manufacturing I would think factories and assembly lines…. It’s a lot different than anything I ever expected.”

Skills Certification

The Right Skills Now program is an acceleration of the National Association of Manufacturer’s Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System. The certification is officially recognized in the manufacturing industry and works in tandem with for-credit education programs.

Students who participate in Right Skills Now receive not only college credit for their degrees and a National Career Readiness Certificate but also hands-on technical experience that prepares them to enter the manufacturing workforce after graduation. The program is offered at Kirkwood Community College, Dunwoody College of Technology, South Central College, Western Nevada College and Lehigh Career & Technical Institute.

Online Education

Online courses are also making education accessible to virtually anyone with Internet access, often for free. Udacity, a private Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) organization founded in 2011, focuses specifically on science and technology. Their courses, ranging from “Introduction to Computer Science” to “Functional Hardware Verification,” allow high school and college students to explore STEM fields and gain high-level skill sets which the manufacturing sector is currently seeking.

Free Extracurricular Training

Free skills training programs in adjacent fields can also help advance the manufacturing sector. Code Now teaches underrepresented high school students basic computer programming skills through free extracurricular training programs. “Coding is the new literacy. It gives individuals the power to innovate and create. We need to empower our youth — especially those from underrepresented communities — to be the next great technology pioneers,” the organization states.

The program aims to “lower the barriers” youth may face in attaining knowledge in programming, while simultaneously sparking interest in this up-and-coming field. The program is split into several parts: weekend training, online course work and a boot camp phase. If program participants complete their coursework they qualify for the boot camp, which is an intensive training in Ruby, one of the most popular computer programming languages. After successful completion of these phases, the students are awarded their own Netbooks to continue developing the skills they have acquired. Since its establishment in 2011, CodeNow has led over 2,500 hours of free training and awarded 53 Netbooks. Approximately 40 percent of their students are girls.