With companies sounding the alarm over the shortage of highly skilled engineering graduates, providers of design tools and other engineering-related technologies are ramping up efforts to seed their products within the student community in the hopes of fostering interest in technical jobs and, at the same time, prepping a ready-made stream of potential new customers.
Siemens PLM Software, SolidWorks, and Z Corp., the 3D printer manufacturer, are the latest to announce programs aimed at nurturing the education market, but they are hardly alone. Most every design tool vendor is aggressively courting this sector, sponsoring programs with universities and bankrolling software licenses to gain exposure for their tools at the college, high school, and even elementary school levels.
While design tool vendors sponsoring student software licenses and awarding grants is not necessarily a new phenomenon, the pace has markedly picked up. Vendors say their efforts are in response to national concerns about the readiness of college graduates to step into engineering roles and the even larger issue of not having enough qualified US engineering and science graduates to fill the number of available and projected new jobs in this sector.
According to a report from the US Department of Commerce, over the past 10 years, growth in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs, and STEM positions are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth in that same time frame for non-STEM jobs.
Siemens PLM Software, which for years has regularly awarded grant programs for select universities, for the first time has created a student edition of its Solid Edge CAD software that it is offering to all full- or part-time students throughout the world at any academic level. The free, 12-month license, which is only available via download, contains the latest Solid Edge functionality, including Siemens PLM Software's synchronous technology, which melds the functionality of history-based and direct modeling. The license can be renewed annually, provided the user remains a qualified student, but the version is not intended for commercial use -- thus it can't share CAD models with the commercial version of Solid Edge.
For its part, SolidWorks showcased one of its many education efforts at its recent press/analyst day. Working closely with MIT professor Barbara Hughey, PhD, SolidWorks is providing free software to support the university's Women's Technology Program, a four-week summer program designed to spark high school girls' interest in studying engineering and computer science. The program, which has mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science components, is offered to 60 participants selected from a nationwide applicant pool of the top female 11th grade math and science students.
Finally, Z Corp.'s new effort to tackle the so-called "skills crisis" also takes aim at high school students. As part of a program it's calling the EngineeringZONE, the company is inviting high school classes to visit Z Corp. headquarters on a monthly basis to experience the latest in 3D printing and 3D laser scanning technology.
On hand to promote Z Corp.'s effort was Congressman John Tierney (D-MA), who underscored the importance of all of these efforts. "We know that jobs focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are growing at a faster rate than many other fields, and we need to do a better job of engaging our students in these areas," Tierney said, in a press release. "By bringing high school students into Z Corp for a day of hands-on learning, they will have exposure to careers they may otherwise overlook."