Summer is nearly over and many kids are already preparing for back-to-school with activities such as shopping for new clothes, school supplies and wondering what awaits them in a new grade level with new teachers. One thing for sure, STEM will be at the forefront. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is being pushed hard through all grade levels in schools across the country as a way to prepare young people for high-paying jobs in the business of manufacturing and industry.
Academically, there are many things that students require to make them ready for today's job market, and certainly the STEM curricula are necessary. But I'm wondering if there's more emphasis on the "book learning" and less focus on the actual manufacturing opportunities.
Jeannine Kunz, managing director of workforce and education for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, expressed the same concerns when I interviewed her recently for an upcoming article. "An issue I have is that there is a lot of attention on STEM and that's great but is manufacturing getting lost in that conversation?" Kunz questioned. "At the end of the day we want to get young people intrigued in making things rather than getting too caught up in the mechanics of the information and lose sight of the application. It's not just the love of math or the learning about math that is important, but what math can do to help you achieve your dreams."
Mold manufacturers tell me that many high school seniors that they tap for possible entry into apprenticeship programs at their plants lack a basic knowledge of math. Math is a critical component of most moldmaking apprenticeship programs, so a basic knowledge of that subject, academically, is vital to their success in a moldmaking career. For that reason, it's important to have the knowledge of math so that it can then be applied to the skills required in mold design or mold making.
Getting young people excited about "making things" is what will drive their entry into manufacturing, not just knowing about math or engineering or science. That's the excitement that 3D/additive manufacturing machines are bringing to classrooms across America. One of Makerbot's goals is a 3D printer in every classroom, which is a wonderful way to get kids as young as grade school excited about how things are made and thrill of actually making something.
Manufacturing is all about "making things" and getting young people excited about making things should be the first step. Then teaching them the academics - science, technology, engineering and math - that are applied to making those things becomes exciting as well. That's where manufacturing will get the next generation of skills and talent.