Manufacturers: Invest in Training for Digital Factory Jobs

If manufacturers don’t train workers for next-generation jobs, American industry will have a workforce shortfall.

Charles Murray

January 30, 2018

4 Min Read
Manufacturers: Invest in Training for Digital Factory Jobs

American manufacturers need to step up and invest in training and education for a new breed of digital factory jobs, otherwise those jobs will leave the country, an expert will say at the upcoming Pacific Design & Manufacturing conference.

 “Our big message is that blue collar jobs have become digital,” Sarah Boisvert, founder of the non-profit Fab Lab Hub and author of the book, “The New Collar Work Force,” told Design News. “To meet the needs of Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing, manufacturers are going to have to train people for ‘new collar’ jobs.”

Sarah Boisvert, founder of Fab Lab Hub: “The jobs will go to the countries that prepare, and we won’t be able to compete.” (Source: Fab Lab Hub)

The concept of “new collar” jobs will be important one for manufacturers going forward because new skills will be needed in digital factories, Boisvert said. Those skills include the ability to run and repair 3D printers, the ability to collect data, and the ability to work with CAD files and programs, such as Fusion 360 from Autodesk, Inc. Equally important, prospective employees will need to have hands-on experience in the so-called “maker space;” they will need basic math skills; and they will have to be adept at problem solving, she said.

Those skills are largely unavailable in today’s youth, Boisevert said, who also was a co-founder of the commercial division of Potomac Photonics, Inc. and has developed laser-based micro-machine tools. “Now that kids don’t buy cars and fix them up, and now that kids don’t learn those skills on farms and ranches, we have to create opportunities,” she told us.

Boisevert strongly recommends that manufacturers step in, provide funding and materials to schools, give access to hands-on experience, and open facilities to let youth see what a factory looks like and how it operates. Moreover, she said engineers should share their experience and expertise. “Engineers can and should be mentors. I recommend they go to a local fab lab or maker space or school. They should participate and let kids see what a real factory is like, that it’s not something out of Dickens.”

Part of industry’s problem, Boisvert said, is its image. She cited a study by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) showing that, when it comes to a lack of trained candidates, parents are a big part of the problem. “They want their kids to be doctors and lawyers,” she said. “They don’t think of manufacturing as a professional career.”

As a result, she said, experts expect the demand for candidates to be about two million greater than the supply by 2020. The shortfall is surprising, given the fact that SME has published figures showing that the average US manufacturing worker makes $77,506 per year.

The misconceptions can’t be cleared up, however, if manufacturers don’t make an effort, Boisvert said. “If they don’t step up to the plate, and don’t recognize the need to train workers for these new collar jobs, we’re not going to have manufacturing in this country,” she told us. “The jobs will go to the countries that prepare, and we won’t be able to compete.”

Boisvert also warned that automation alone won’t solve the problem. The key, she said, is an investment in people. “Machines don’t innovate,” she told us. “People innovate. “If we don’t have the workers on the factory floor who can innovate, industry is going to collapse.”

Boisvert will discuss the need for training in a session called New Collar Job Training for the Digital Age at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing conference in Anaheim on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 33 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and auto.

Pacific Design & Manufacturing, North America’s premier conference that connects you with thousands of professionals across the advanced design & manufacturing spectrum, is back at the Anaheim Convention Center February 6-8, 2018! Over three days, uncover software innovation, hardware breakthroughs, fresh IoT trends, product demos and more that will change how you spend time and money on your next project. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TODAY!


About the Author(s)

Charles Murray

Charles Murray is a former Design News editor and author of the book, Long Hard Road: The Lithium-Ion Battery and the Electric Car, published by Purdue University Press. He previously served as a DN editor from 1987 to 2000, then returned to the magazine as a senior editor in 2005. A former editor with Semiconductor International and later with EE Times, he has followed the auto industry’s adoption of electric vehicle technology since 1988 and has written extensively about embedded processing and medical electronics. He was a winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for his story, “The Making of a Medical Miracle,” about implantable defibrillators. He is also the author of the book, The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1997. Murray’s electronics coverage has frequently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and in Popular Science. He holds a BS in engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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