The future of manufacturing faces a major skills gap that could grow as the workforce struggles to keep up with further technological advances

How to prepare students for the future of manufacturing

The future of manufacturing faces a major skills gap that could grow as the workforce struggles to keep up with further technological advances

While these insights are compelling, they also expose the delta between where the industry is heading and the current topics of academic curricula. With business pressures driving manufacturing to increase efficiency, productivity, and sustainability, academia will have to align with these trends as soon as they can to keep up with the job market.

As a former educator, I empathize with the complexity of the task at hand. I saw firsthand the challenges facing manufacturing education. Educators are tasked with preparing students for emerging technologies while still teaching the underpinning foundational concepts and meeting accreditation standards, all within the same time parameters.

Fortunately, this research captured some bright spots and promising recommendations for educators. For example, respondents agree on the need for business leaders to support the education sector with curriculum development. Among academics surveyed, 80 percent would even like to see industry executives deployed as faculty. There is also interest in reducing ‘time-to-talent’ by leveraging real-world contexts, with 90 percent of academics agreeing that they must incorporate practical, hands-on learning opportunities for students to fully grasp design for manufacturing skills.

One of the datapoints I found encouraging was that 86 percent of academics surveyed embrace less reliance on traditional degrees and welcome more specialized certifications developed in partnership with industry. Generally, extended learning activities like credentialing are relegated to a student’s free time outside of the academic schedule, but not every student has the time or awareness to pursue these opportunities—opportunities that could help give them a leg up in the job market. That’s why I’m excited to see other educators embrace the prospect of integrating these certifications into their existing curriculum and giving students a head start to developing the skills that employers are actively seeking right now.

To further support the idea of supplemental learning, 84 percent of all survey respondents believe employers and academia should partner on new types of certification programs based on employer needs, and 91 percent want new opportunities for long-term internships and co-op programs. I hope that this interest in collaboration manifests in greater depth and breadth of academic and industry partnerships. 

The role of preparing students for their careers is a difficult task for academics, but they don’t have to do it alone. Hard-working educators can lean on their manufacturing industry colleagues for support in curriculum development, skill-building, onsite-learning, and career-training to foster brighter job prospects for students and help alleviate the numerous pressures that weigh on a post-secondary educator. Equipped with the rights skills, our students can find meaningful, rewarding careers where they are poised to solve today’s problems and forge tomorrow’s innovations.

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