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3D Printing and the Manufacturing Skills Gap

3D Printing and the Manufacturing Skills Gap


What’s the best way to train today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs? In the United States, there’s considerable debate about how to close the “skills gap” in manufacturing. Most (but not all) analysts acknowledge that such a gap exists, and that too many manufacturers struggle to find qualified workers. At the same time, too many workers – including recent college graduates – are unemployed or underemployed because they lack the technical skills that employers need.

Yet some college graduates avoid manufacturing careers for entirely different reasons. Like their parents, they think that all manufacturing work is dull, dirty, repetitive, and boring. Because of their parents, these young people also believe that all manufacturing jobs are inherently unstable. Can parents who lost their jobs and communities to restructuring and offshoring teach their children otherwise? Closing the skills gap will mean reaching Mom and Dad, too.

Like the United States, India in the midst of rapid technological innovation and sometimes painful generational change. For Americans, 3D printing may seem cleaner and brighter than old auto parts plants. Yet perception alone isn’t enough. Closing the skills gap begins by engaging students, but enthusiasm alone won’t produce a skilled workforce. Universities must teach what businesses need. That’s true in Milwaukee and it’s true in Mumbai.

Can the United States close its manufacturing “skills gap”? What (if anything) can India learn from America’s current distress? In each country, what is the proper role of industry? What is the responsibility of higher education? These questions are difficult, and manufacturing is bigger than 3D printing. Yet additive manufacturing can provide a way forward – and not just in terms of technological innovation and industrial production. 3D printing could change the way we learn.

In the United States, the emphasis on additive manufacturing has been limited to community colleges, where students typically receive technician-level training. Yet there’s a role for four-year colleges, too. Specifically, students at these institutions need more in-depth education. Initiatives at the state and federal levels are underway, but successful implementations will require more than just a top-down approach. Universities deserve a strong voice.

Additive manufacturers must have a prominent place at the table, too. Only businesses can tell universities what the “real world” really needs. So educational institutions must listen, and additive manufacturers must participate. Filling the manufacturing skills gap will require levels of cooperation that may seem challenging at times. From New York to New Delhi, the future of 3D printing depends on it.

About Author

Steve-Melito-188x144Steve Melito is an award-winning content developer specializing in manufacturing, material science, and homeland security. He is the founder and owner of Thunderbolt Business Services, a content development agency with clients and partners in North America, Europe, and Asia. Today, Steve’s clients include small-to-medium (SME) manufacturers and several defense industry magazines. A graduate of Colgate and Southern Methodist University, his connections to the Indian marketplace include Defense and Security (DSA) Magazine of New Delhi.