STEM education

Education has been intertwined with the manufacturing sector for decades, with talented and educated workers greatly contributing to the success of the field, and with innovations within the field in turn providing new areas of study for students.

In this post, we’ll look at the role that science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, continues to play in the manufacturing sector and why it’s so essential to both the industry and the country that STEM education continue to be a priority.

Why STEM Education Is so Vital

With every facet of STEM being crucial to the manufacturing field, especially when it comes to pushing the industry further and expanding its capabilities, having the newer generations of manufacturers well-versed in STEM through their education is key.

As Saul K. Fenster, president emeritus of the New Jersey Institute of Technology stated within an article on ReliablePlant:

“Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is not only a prelude to engineering, but also to innovation manufacturing in the 21st century. STEM education is also crucial to fields in all areas of society including the financial, medical and biology sectors. Engineering is a problem-solving profession, and when young people realize it is creative and fun, they are less apprehensive about its more challenging curriculum, and learning is made significantly easier.”

Despite STEM’s importance to manufacturing, however, one problem that has emerged in recent years has been the skills gap. As stated on a ThomasNet post:

“A huge challenge to filling jobs is overcoming the negative industry perception ― improving this image, while exposing the population to a manufacturing career, is the key to a successful future for this industry."

Since the skills gap directly relates to whether the talented, STEM-educated individuals the manufacturing sector needs are entering the field, it’s worth taking a closer look at what’s going on.

The Manufacturing Skills Gap – Why We Need STEM Now More Than Ever

The skills gap is the name used for the shortfall in skills-adept applicants that manufacturers are seeing during the hiring process, which is in turn creating problems within their companies and the manufacturing sector as a whole. These problems include the following:

  • While the manufacturing sector is projected to incorporate 3.4 million new jobs to keep up with the needs of production through 2028, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte have predicted that only 60% of these jobs will be able to be filled, due to the skills gap
  • Due to this shortfall, it’s projected that $454 billion in revenue could be lost in 2028, with $2.5 trillion being lost in the decade leading up to that year

So what exactly brought about the skills gap? There are a number of factors, but some of the major ones include:

  • Industry Growth – One reason for the skills gap has simply been the speed at which the manufacturing sector has expanded, leading to more STEM-focused jobs being needed in key areas.
  • An Aging Workforce – 2.7 million jobs are expected to become available in the manufacturing sector soon due to many people within the field approaching retirement age. These workers, though, have a wealth of industry experience and the vital skills manufacturers need, further putting pressure on finding the right individuals with STEM educations to ward off the negative effects of the gap.
  • Applicants Lacking the Needed STEM Skills – Previous generations of workers may not have gotten the formal STEM educations that are now needed to be successful in many manufacturing roles, but they learned on the job. Current applicants, however, are greatly encouraged to have such a background, though many still do not, contributing to the shortfall.
  • Perceptions of Manufacturing – Perhaps one of the major reasons for the shortfall is due to misconceptions about the manufacturing field, in that it is not a “modern” industry. While this isn’t true due to manufacturing being at the forefront of technology in many ways, this perception exists, leading some who acquire a STEM-based education to look to other fields.

As you can see, the skills gap has come about due to a number of reasons, furthering the importance for the manufacturing sector’s need to attract qualified, skilled workers who have a STEM background.

How Should Manufacturing Promote STEM?

To ward off the effects of the skills gap, keep manufacturing plants properly staffed, and prepare the next generation of skilled workforces, manufacturers should continue to look for ways to promote STEM educations across the country.

This will not only help out students to develop their talents, but will serve as a way to entice those entering the workforce to pursue roles within manufacturing. Let’s take a look at some of the recent efforts underway.

Manufacturing Day

First held in 2012, Manufacturing Day is now an annual event that works with manufacturing companies throughout the United States to promote the industry and show the reality of careers within the field. Some key facts via a Deloitte graphic:

  • 94% of manufacturing hosts have felt the event was valuable, with 95% saying they would likely host another event in the future
  • For students, 90% found their activities and tours interesting and engaging, with 62% becoming more motivated to pursue manufacturing as a career choice
  • Additionally, 84% of students became more aware of manufacturing opportunities within their communities, really giving these local businesses a leg up when it comes to acquiring new talent

SME Education Foundation

Another worthwhile organization is the SME Education Foundation, which is a nonprofit committed to advancing the next generation of manufacturing and engineering talent.

Some of their efforts have included:

  • Investing $5.3 million in youth programs which have helped more than 15,000 students explore opportunities in STEM education
  • Funding more than $4.7 million in scholarships for students pursuing careers within the manufacturing sector
  • Investing $17.3 million in grants to colleges and universities that are developing curricula focused on the manufacturing and industrial fields

Programs and efforts such as these are what manufacturing needs more of if it’s to draw in the STEM-educated talent it needs in the future.

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