11 ideas to fix our outmoded manufacturing education system
Posted by Bert Maes on April 19, 2010
Thomas L. Friedman made it crystal clear again: “China saves, invests and builds. We spend, borrow and patch”.
To close the serious growing gap between the skills of workers and the advanced (manufacturing) needs of employers, the Chinese government is rapidly expanding postsecondary education.
As such, China is investing massively to keep the profitable process going: turning our innovative ideas into real-life products. “They are building plants, making things manufacturable, and adding them to their growing GDP,” Ralph Gomory, Research Prof. NYU, argues.
The skills and talent gap has been brewing for a few decades and… we are still having a “broken-down and outmoded education system”, according to Tapan Munroe, financial columnist.
“The current situation can’t just continue. We can’t just keep sending factories, supply chains, jobs, and dollars away. It’s a bubble that has to pop. And it will. American business should be planning for this approaching new era of American manufacturing,” Dave Johnson, Campaign for America’s Future, said in the Huffington Post.
Besides rethinking our systems of corporate taxes, capital equipment credits, research and development, industrial zones, etc… (which has languished since its heyday in the 1960s) we will have to redo (not only rethink) our system of technical education and job training.
Some essential focus elements for schools and teachers with a manufacturing department:
- How to give students the hands-on knowledge and skills they need to master the latest most advanced production technologies, such as CNC machines, FMS and robotics?
- How to offer the most extensive practical experience opportunities possible?
- How to maximize the productivity of each hour of labor? How to tackle setup and overhead costs, timing and efficiency, without forgetting the highest quality?
- How to cut cost via lean manufacturing: energy-saving measures, low-cost different raw material, reduce waste policies…?
- How to equip young talented creators with the skills they need to become leaders in the reinvention of products, for a world demanding green technology solutions.
- How to integrate managerial skills, leadership, teamwork and communication competences in the courses?
- If we want to educate the next-generation manufacturing business leader we will have to include international experience opportunities. Kets de Vries interviewed many world leaders in business and heard that all of them were sent – around age 30 – to a country where they have not grown up and not had significant work experience, where they had to build a factory, reorganize a sales office or arrange a joint venture. With similar tasks at small scale teachers introduce students to the very broad issues they will face in manufacturing. They will learn how to solve key supply chain, logistics and pricing problems, how to work with and through others, how to rapidly adjust to changes, etc.
- How to provide more relevant (re)training and career development assistance to employees, in ever more complex production processes?
- How to stay up-to-date and encourage partnerships with businesses and other educational institutions?
- How to be attract more young people to manufacturing classes and modernize technical schools’ facilities?
- How to expand high-quality online course offerings?
Intel’s chief executive Paul Otellini’s conclusion in The New York Times is brilliant: “I’d like to see competitiveness and education take a higher role than they are today (…) We need to focus on the policies that spawn new firms and keep our best at the top.”