On December 18, 2012, CCAC hosted the Advanced Manufacturing/Mechatronics Conference at the Regional Learning Center in Cranberry.
Much of the interest revolved around one of the guest speakers, Bill Symonds, who is making his Harvard study “Pathways to Prosperity” an educational "buzz word" nationally.
Additional speakers included Dan Fogarty, from Schroeder Industries, John DeVere, from Education & Training Solutions, LLC, and Keith Campbell from Industrial Maintenance Training Center of Pennsylvania.
I have a basic understanding of manufacturing but what is mechatronics?
“Mechatronics is a new and exciting engineering field that integrates mechanical and electronic components with hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics and computer controls in the manufacture of industrial products and processes,” according to the conference host, Community College of Allegheny County, which provides training in Mechatronics,
To some, mechatronics is considered the unified and holistic approach to each of the engineering disciplines as explained in this YouTube video: http://youtu.be/xenSAnXMIA8.
“Mechatronics solutions require the use of integrated teams of personnel working towards a common goal.” (http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/industries/mechatronics-informatics-and-control/about-the-group/mechatronics-forum/what-is-mechatronics)
So why are manufacturing and mechatronics so important to Pennsylvania and to the United States?
According to the presentation made by Dan Fogarty, Human Resources Manager of Schroeder Industries, LLC, manufacturing is Pennsylvania’s largest economic sector with over $75 billion in annual output, and 14% of the state gross product.
The productivity per worker in manufacturing is $27,000 more output per employee than any other sector, more than 60% of the innovation patents comes from the manufacturing sector, and nearly one out of every four technology jobs is in the manufacturing sector.
With the continued improvements in technology, which demands higher skill requirements, and with Pennsylvania’s aging workforce, a critical human resource shortage is developing.
There is not enough talent in the pipeline to fill available positions.
According to Mr. Fogarty, by 2020 there will be 4,500 projected openings for industrial maintenance in Southwestern Pennsylvania. These jobs include Mechatronics Technicians, Industrial Mechanics, Industrial Electricians, Robotics Technicians, Automation Technician and many others related to the field of Industrial Maintenance.
The regional entry-level salary (2009) is $29,160, with the average salary being $43,137. Combine this with the very good possibility of consistent work, and that creates a very promising future for Pennsylvania’s up-and-coming workforce.
Why are students not considering manufacturing and mechatronics as occupations?
A plausible solution to these questions was provided by guest speaker Bill Symonds, who is the director of the Pathways to Prosperity Project, which is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was launched in 2008.
Within his presentation of the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Mr. Symonds raised two key questions:
What is wrong with our current approach in schools? And, what do we need to do in order for our kids to dramatically increase their success?
Mr. Symonds continued that the increased interest in these key questions is because the record of school reform is so disappointing, causing the American Dream to be at risk.
There is record unemployment/underemployment for graduates with soaring student debt and the median income per household has decreased to 1990’s level.
According to Mr. Symonds, the key role of education in America is losing its race globally. Forbes magazine reports that the “United States spends more on K-12 public education than many other developed countries, yet U.S. students remain poorly prepared to compete with global peers; more than 25% of US students fail to graduate high school in four years; … in a global economy where language competency is critical, eight in 10 Americans only speak English; according to a recent report by the not-for-profit-organization ACT, only 22% of high school students met “college ready” standards in all core subjects; major employers cannot find qualified American applicants to fill job openings, and 75% of U.S. citizens ages 17-24 cannot pass military exams because they are out of shape, have criminal records or lack critical skills needed for modern warfare. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2012/03/26/7-signs-that-americas-educational-decline-is-jeopardizing-its-national-security/)
Mr. Symonds is concerned:
“Would our next generation be called ‘A Wasted Generation’”?
In the Pathways to Prosperity report, the next trends indicate that by 2018 Pennsylvania is expected to have 6.4 million jobs, 56% of these jobs will require post-secondary education, 29% will require a four-year degree or higher and 27% will require an associates degree or some college.
The statistics reveal that it will be critical to have a high school degree.
Parents and students feel that the only way to success is through a four-year college degree, but according to Mr. Symonds, this thinking is out of step with the labor market demand.
“We are still the most productive manufacturing country in the world," he points out. "We will be replacing our baby boomers, that is where the jobs will be coming from.”
His thoughts that “college for all” should expand to “post high school credentials for all” through community college/technical college, apprenticeships, military/community service and four year college. Mr. Symonds explains:
“Put kids in an environment that they are engaged and they will succeed and stay in school and graduate.”
The three core elements of the Pathways to Prosperity system include: “Multiple pathways for students which would elevate career education to world class levels, provide high quality career counseling and improve opportunities toward work-based learning; expand the role for employers to include career guidance, designing programs of study in a work-based environment; and a new social compact with young people.”
Pennsylvania’s post-secondary education, community colleges, certifications, vocational technical schools, high schools as well as the training facilities such as Education & Training Solutions, LLC, and Industrial Maintenance Training Center of Pennsylvania, are all readily available to provide the education for the manufacturing and mechatronics trends Mr. Dogarty and Mr. Symonds reference for Pennsylvania.
Companies, educators and communities will have to introduce non-traditional approaches to addressing this critical need in Pennsylvania’s workforce in order to attract the interest of students and educated workers as Mr. Symonds recommends.
Starting in high school and continuing into post-secondary education, companies need to open their doors with internships and apprenticeships in order to introduce students to opportunities available in the manufacturing/mechatronics fields and educators need to provide companies the opportunity to promote work based learning.
Communities need to market local companies through local promotions and create opportunities for company involvement in community events. This collaborative effort could be a beginning of the “Pathway of Prosperity” for Pennsylvania’s next generation who just need a little direction and guidance toward the new talent pipeline.
The writer, Aafke Loney, is the president of Business and Education Connected, www.business-education-connected.com