U.S. Department of Education Participates in TMA's Precision Machining Competition
"You should be proud of the work you're doing. Your parents and teachers are proud. You've created something of which you should be proud. Congratulations!"
That's what Dr. Casey Sacks, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges for the U.S. Department of Education, told the 300 plus attendees at the Technology & Manufacturing Association's (TMA) 2019 Precision Machining Competition.
During an interview with TMA News Bulletin before the annual competition, Dr. Sacks said the need for skilled workers is a theme she's hearing consistently as she travels throughout the US.
"Manufacturers everywhere worry about their next generation -- with concerns both in terms of technology and who is going to fill those roles directing that technology. Those two themes are competing," she said. "I hear a lot about emerging trends in technology the IoT and additive manufacturing. Manufacturers wonder if those trends are really going to transform what's going on in the CNC space, and are concerned those changes could be quite disruptive."
And then there's concern about filling the void of experience and knowledge retirees are taking with them.
"A lot of manufacturers I talk to say they have phenomenal workers that have been running their machines for 40 years, but they are leaving, and they just can't buy another to replace them with all that experience - they just don't exist," Dr. Sacks said.
But is manufacturing really coming back to the US, and does the industry offer careers for the future?
Yes, Dr. Sacks told TMA News Bulletin. Manufacturing is one of the top three crucial areas of career demands in the near future.
"The three main areas will be health care, IoT and manufacturing -- and should be solidly for a while, according to market projections," she said. There's a lot of work to be done in communicating that to people that want to be in the labor market. They want good jobs that pay well, so they can stay and live in their communities."
Sacks says the medical industry has conveyed that sense to the next generation, but the manufacturing industry has more work to do to emphasize how it has changed and offers bright futures.
"The President has established the Council for the American Worker, which is focused on what can we do to change the stigma surrounding manufacturing careers."
After touring TMA's Education Center, Dr. Sacks was especially delighted to meet with several young women that competed in TMA's Precision Machining Competition. She spoke with them individually and asked them to explain their projects and share their plans for future careers.
"I'm impressed with the equipment TMA has in its education center. There's really no need for local high schools to invest in this expensive machinery when they can send students here to become acquainted with the industry," she said.
"They can also work with local companies to set up training programs that allow them to learn on these specialized machines while finishing their high school requirements or working towards associates' or bachelor's degrees."
High schools can do more to focus on teaching skills in math and reading to equip students for manufacturing careers, Sacks said, while leaving the machining and engineering skill teaching to companies whose equipment is already in place.
She encouraged Illinois-based manufacturers to reach out to the Illinois State Board of Education in order to convey their skill needs as the state prepares its submission for the federal one billion-dollar Perkins grant.
"The funds are divided among the states, and Illinois' Perkins Grant request is due next April," she said. "They will be reviewing the state's jobs needs data and input from local employers," Dr. Sacks said. "I'd encourage Illinois manufacturers to be a part of the process."