To mark National Engineers Week, which runs this year from Feb. 20 to 26, we have compiled a list of the top U.S. colleges offering undergraduate plastics engineering programs. The list is based on the U.S. Department of Education's Scorecard and is supplemented by additional information from various sources.
As the plastics industry is painfully aware, there is a shortage of skilled talent coming into the workforce just as baby boomers are retiring. In a recent survey from the American Mold Builders Association, workforce development was named the biggest challenge by 93% of respondents. It’s a refrain we hear from all corners of the plastics processing industry and, indeed, the larger manufacturing sector. Many companies have taken matters into their own hands, partnering with local schools and offering robust internship programs. But they and educational establishments alike are wrestling with some ingrained perception issues.
First and foremost, the public at large continues to view manufacturing in a Dickensian light, when the reality of advanced manufacturing is anything but the dingy, dirty and sweaty workplace of the past. The advent of smart manufacturing, encompassing sensing technology, the industrial internet of things, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, has transformed the shop floor into something more akin to a video game. The good news is that Generation Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, are getting the message. According to a survey conducted by Leading2Lean, young people today look more positively on manufacturing and are more inclined to consider it as a career than previous generations. To learn more about this, read “Will Generation Z Be the Salvation of U.S. Manufacturing?”
Another handicap that is specific to the plastics industry is the vilification of plastics among the general population. In a word, plastics technology is not cool, at best, and that can be a real hurdle when you are trying to interest young people in a career. As we have often stated in PlasticsToday, that viewpoint is myopic and doesn’t consider the considerable benefits that plastics technology brings to food preservation, medical innovation and light weighting in automobiles (enabling fuel economy), to name just three areas. Moreover, advances in bio-based materials and recycling technologies are making a significant dent in solving the plastic waste problem, and many of those initiatives are led by the plastics sector. As industry and educators continue to get that message out, we believe, in time, that the debate will become less emotional and more balanced.
When it comes to considering a career in plastics processing, it’s also worth noting that compensation can be quite competitive, a fact that is often neglected. The salary range provided by the Department of Education in the following statistics is overly broad. According to Glassdoor, the average national salary of a plastics engineer is just over $72K, with the average annual starting pay for recent grads at $61,789.
Sound good? Here are eight schools that can get you started on an exciting, fulfilling, and well-compensated career in the plastics industry.
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