(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Fran Stewart, Ph.D., author of The STEM Dilemma: Skills That Matter to Regions via The MPI Group)
Engineers are the world’s problem solvers, but will creating more of them fix what ails some regions?
Policymakers must think so.
The pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees is no longer simply one of personal interest or professional ambition; it is now also considered an economic imperative and public priority for regions. Changes in the curricula (and even names) of local schools, as well as state and federal education spending, reflect a clear policy assumption: Local economies benefit when scientists make discoveries, engineers solve problems, and computer experts program solutions. The places that can attract or develop these professionals are seen as potential winners in today’s technology-driven economy.
The certainty of this conventional wisdom drives countless interventions targeted at growing local STEM “pipelines.” Yet, an important question remains: Does a greater supply of STEM-degreed workers actually generate economic gains for regional economies? New research suggests that (largely) imitative efforts to expand the ranks of STEM workers may not work — because they neglect important differences in regional demand for these skills, as well as the importance of other skill sets for regional competitive advantage.
Why? Because implicit in many STEM initiatives is the belief that a larger pool of workers educated in STEM will lead to the technological innovations, new products, and new processes that drive employment growth and economic well-being. Yet, it’s unclear whether mastery of specific technical skills creates new products and markets, or if entrepreneurial talents — recognizing trends, envisioning opportunities, assessing risk, and persisting in the face of obstacles — are what really generate growth. Focusing solely on technical aspects of innovation minimizes the importance of other skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and resilience. Research indicates that:
Not all STEM jobs require a college degree.
STEM is more than just scientists, engineers, and software developers. Many technical and mechanical jobs, such as electro-mechanical technicians, industrial production managers and computer numerically-controlled-machine programmers, require advanced STEM capabilities. These STEM jobs are associated with higher regional wages and other measures of regional economic well-being.
STEM investment may not bring employment growth.
Despite the benefits associated with a higher concentration of regional employment in STEM jobs, investing in STEM talent as an economic development strategy isn’t necessarily a jobs program. Why? Because occupations with higher STEM requirements tend to employ disproportionately fewer workers.
Not all high-paying jobs require STEM degrees or skills.
Occupations with higher STEM requirements tend to pay higher wages, but so do occupations demanding high-level “soft” skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and communication). The occupations that pay the highest wages are those requiring both high STEM and high soft skills. These occupations include scientists, engineers, software applications developers, and doctors, but also industrial production managers, science teachers, and certain business operations specialists. In addition, some occupations that require high-level soft skills but low-level STEM skills — chief executives, managers, lawyers, teachers, financial advisers and mental health counselors — reward workers with higher wages.
Highly skilled STEM jobs benefit regions, but so do ones requiring high levels of soft skills.
A region may see improved economic well-being from promoting STEM skill development, but regions also can benefit from focusing on soft-skill development. In my study, regions with greater concentrations of workers in high-level soft-skill/low-level STEM-skill jobs tended to enjoy higher median wages and per capita incomes. This suggests the need for greater policy focus on the development of valuable soft skills, which often cut across a large variety of occupations.
Low-skill, low-wage jobs predominate in most regions.
Economic development policy focuses largely on growing the supply of workers to fill “high-skill” jobs that benefit regional economies; not enough attention is being paid to the effects of low-skill work. More than half of all U.S. employment is relatively low-skill, and large concentrations of low-skill employment drag down regional economic well-being. Regions with a higher share of low-level STEM-skill and low-level soft-skill employment tend to have lower wages, less economic growth, lower productivity, and lower per capita incomes. These relatively low-skill occupations — which include work in food services, retail and home health care — play important roles in regional economies and provide thousands of essential jobs, but their limited pay and benefits present significant challenges not just for individual workers, but for communities, as well.
Regions differ in their demand for skills.
The region in my study with the largest share of employment accounted for by engineers, scientists, software developers, and similar STEM occupations had five times more STEM employment than the region with the smallest share of these occupations. Some regions have nearly 60 percent of their employment in occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree, whereas other regions have 60 percent or more of their employment in low-skill occupations. Wide variation in skill concentrations and educational attainment reflect differences in regional industrial mixes and heritages. Despite the largely universal goal of growing the supply of high-skill workers, these differences continue to shape the demand for talent and the well-being of regions in different ways.
Imitative policies may not pay off.
Place-based initiatives that aim to grow the supply of STEM workers to spur economic development run the risk that the newly developed human capital investments (or, skilled workers) won’t stay local. Well-educated young workers tend to be highly mobile, meaning they often take their in-demand skills elsewhere without rewarding jobs, emotional attachments, or area amenities to hold them. In other words, regions may inadvertently develop talent that ultimately benefits other regions. It’s important to remember that while a failure to invest in human capital is risky, it may be even riskier to invest in skills that don’t align with the talent needs of the region’s industrial mix.
The challenge for policymakers and economic development practitioners at local and state levels is how to craft programs and strategies that support the specific talent needs of their regional economies — building on existing industrial assets while identifying new opportunities for growth. The opportunities for workers and regions with the right mix of talent and luck are extraordinary; the speed with which technology is reinventing work environments and demands for talent is equally breathtaking. But the same technologies that are disrupting the workplace also can facilitate better understanding of job demands and skill concentrations, which enables cheaper, quicker, more accessible, and better-targeted pathways to developing necessary skills and knowledge. Regions need to take stock of their own assets and invest wisely — not just imitate the STEM efforts of others.
(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Alec Pendleton, Big Ideas for Small Companies, powered by The MPI Group)
The iPhone was introduced 10 years ago, in 2007—or MMVII, as the Romans would have said. In celebration of that anniversary, Apple has just introduced its latest model, the X—or 10, as we would write it. While pondering this milestone, I realized that 10 years ago, I had no clue that the iPhone was coming, and once it did, I didn’t even begin to understand its implications. And not just the iPhone — but the hundreds of other changes that have transformed both the way we operate our businesses and how we live.
In 2007, Amazon was mostly in the book business and had just introduced the Kindle. Twitter was in its infancy. Airbnb didn’t exist. Tesla made a quirky little sports car. Facebook had about 100,000 business pages. Newspapers were profitable (well, sort of). I had a camera! If I wanted to deposit a check, I had to take or mail it to the bank; to pay a bill, I had to write a check. Buying a used car was a risky business.
Ten years later: Recent purchases from Amazon by my family include dental floss, office supplies, textbooks, a security system, and a hammock. We have a president who got where he is by tweeting. Millions of people pay to sleep in strangers’ guest rooms every night. Tesla can’t build its fancy electric sedans fast enough. Facebook now has more than 65 million business pages, and Internet advertising has taken (almost) all the profit out of the newspaper business. My camera is now in my phone, and I can deposit a check by taking a picture of it; I haven’t written a paper check in months. Even at the outdoor farmers’ market in our neighborhood, I can buy groceries with a credit card, which the Amish farmer scans with a tiny device on his phone. And a few months ago, I almost bought a used car until my daughter discovered – on her phone – that it had been in an accident a couple of years prior.
This is all amazing stuff. It and much more have made us happier and more productive, by allowing us to escape a lot of drudgery. It’s wonderful! But if you’re a retailer, or in the newspaper business, or in countless other fields impacted by these technologies, there’s also been a significant downside. Massive change means massive disruption, made all the worse because it was unforeseen by most of those who were damaged by it. Retailers and newspapers, for example, were caught unawares, and thousands of jobs were lost. It seems unlikely that former journalists and store managers are making ends meet by renting out their guest rooms.
So we must ask, what about the NEXT 10 years? What crazy, unimaginable new technologies will disrupt your business or your life? More importantly, what can you do about it?
I have a manufacturing company. If 10 years from now everyone has a 3-D printer, can I just transmit an e-file to my customer, allowing him to print my product for himself?
The possibilities are endless.
So how do we prepare? I’m not convinced that becoming an early adopter is the answer. All of these amazing success stories rest atop a much greater number of failures. Instead, I think the better course will be to focus on fully leveraging new technologies after they’re reasonably well established. The opportunities from last decade’s progress are still far from fully exploited; for example, there are many ways to deploy Apple or Amazon or Google technologies — or even our phones — to improve our businesses and lives that most of us still don’t use.
I also don’t think that guessing what comes next is a good strategy, because it encourages trying to time your investments — and few of us are smart or lucky enough to get it right. Get in too early and you’re often distracted, discouraged, or just plain wrong. Get in too late and you’ve missed the chance to seize opportunities or avoid threats. Perhaps the best approach is watchful waiting, with test investments of time and cash to embrace new technologies without being smothered by them.
That’s my plan for amazing change, anyway. What’s yours?
Alec Pendleton took control of a small, struggling family business in Akron, Ohio, at an early age. Upon taking the helm, he sold off the unprofitable divisions and rebuilt the factory, which helped to quadruple sales of the remaining division within seven years. These decisions — and the thousands of others he made over his time as president and CEO — ensured that his small manufacturing business thrived and stayed profitable for the generation to come. The culmination of a lifetime of experience, accumulated wisdom, and a no-nonsense approach to looking at the books allows him to provide a unique perspective on Big Ideas for Small Companies.
On Nov. 8, Joe Powell, HGR’s graphic designer/videographer, and I had the opportunity to attend a “reverse job fair” with Interactive Multimedia Technology (IMT) students at Auburn Career Center in Concord, Ohio.
These students are currently enrolled in a two-year Tech-Prep program that focuses on the various creative aspects of computer technology. Under the supervision and guidance of their instructor, Rodney Kozar, these students learn everything from Web design to design techniques (digital photography, graphic design, Adobe Photoshop), audio/video production and animation.
The focus of the job fair was to provide potential internship opportunities for Auburn Career Center’s students and manufacturing organizations who are currently members of the Alliance for Working Together, which puts on the annual RoboBots competition. Organizations had the opportunity to interview these students in order to consider hiring them for an eight-week program that would benefit both the organization and the student by working on a marketing project of the organization’s choosing.
When Rodney asked for suggestions prior the event about how to better match students to organizations, HGR suggested that the students set up booths and allow the organizations the opportunity to come around and view their work in a “reverse job fair.”
It worked out extremely well. Each student had his or her own booth featuring that student’s own work, which included large posters, short animation films, photos and even video productions. Hiring managers were able to visit each booth, see small demos, ask questions and then circle back to sign up for interviews. Each organization was allowed four interviews of 15 minutes each.
The 14 students were well prepared to speak about their work and answer various questions. With 11 organizations in attendance, student interviews were booking quickly; so, we had to make our decision fast so as not to lose out on the opportunity. With so much talent, narrowing it down to four was difficult.
During the interview process HGR’s Joe Powell was able to ask our candidates the technical questions: what software programs were they familiar with, camera angles, editing, sound booths and Photoshop. The flow of dialogue was smooth between them. I was able to get a good feel for how well our candidate managed his or her time, dealt with project deadlines, worked as a team and what he or she potentially could bring to the table. All four of the candidates that we interviewed were on their game.
Our goal at HGR is to bring on one intern in early 2018. We have it narrowed down to two candidates who we’ve invited out to interview us. Stay tuned.
In June, I met with Alicia Booker, vice president of manufacturing, and Alethea Ganaway, program manager additive manufacturing & Ideation Station, of Cuyahoga Community College’s Workforce, Community and Economic Development division at the Metro Campus. Booker says, “We take a manufacturing systems approach and not a product approach. We don’t just focus occupationally on the need to fill a gap then three months later the need arises again due to churn.”
For this team, it’s all about workforce development and creating a skilled workforce. More than 3,500 students are attending the workforce programs, including youth, adults interested in a career transitions, students who already have a degree but are returning to upgrade skills, older adults interested in a second career, employees who need additional training for their current role, and job seekers interested in starting a career.
Booker moved to Ohio two years ago from Pennsylvania to accept the position. Ganaway was moved from Tri-C’s robotics program to additive manufacturing in order to write the grant to fund the program. Now, two years later, the fruits of their labor are paying off in the Manufacturing Center of Excellence (MCoE).
Booker says, “We offer a unique brand of training – short-term through two-year degree plus transfer opportunities. Classes are offered in environments that meet the needs of the students and customers — day, evening, weekend, and bootcamp formats, full- and part-time training, and now we can offer onsite training through the Citizens Bank Mobile Training Unit. Our programs are comprehensive, offering exploration and career exposure to students as young as eight years old through our Nuts & Bolts Academy, middle and high school visits (via the mobile unit), and our college credit plus K-12 initiative.”
This is what the impressively outfitted MCoE contains:
According to Ganaway, “The Additive Manufacturing program includes not only 3D printing, but we teach students how to reverse engineer parts, 2D and 3D design, 3D scanning, inspection and other technologies related to additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is not just related to manufacturing; it includes other disciplines, as well, such as medical. Some of the projects include 3D printing prosthetics for veterans at the VA who are disabled.”
The college offers training by which students can earn college credits and industry certifications. In the welding training, they learn MIG, TIG, and stick welding. Right Skills Now affords students with CNC training in manual and automated machining. They train on Haas CNC mills and lathes, and on Bridgeport manual machines. The 3D/additive manufacturing training is in digital design, and students receive training in multiple 3D printing technologies, including the use of 3D printers, scanners, and other equipment available through the Ideation Station where they can work with a techno router, laser engraver, etc. In Mechatronics, students learn techniques in mechanical, electrical, computerization, and gain an understanding of how these systems work together. Finally, as a certified production technician, students are prepared to begin career opportunities in manufacturing and earn four industry certifications in areas of safety, manufacturing processes and production. This is a hybrid training program that includes training on the integrated systems training equipment to prepare them for occupations in material handling, assembly and production.
To stay connected to industry, the program has several advisory committees made up of industry professionals from the welding, machining, electrical, mechanical, 3D printing and transportation sectors. They also have specific employer-based programs, including First Energy, Swagelok and ArcelorMittal, who have advised the college on customized programs that lead to employment with their companies. Local businesses, such as Cleveland Job Corps, Cleveland Municipal School District, Towards Employment, Boys & Girls Club, Ohio Means Jobs, Ford, General Motors, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, NASA, Arconic, Charter Steel, and others, utilize the program’s services.
The program, says Booker, helps to meet the growing demand for a skilled workforce by “working to strengthen the region by supporting the existing efforts of our partners and by addressing the needs we hear from employers for a skilled workforce. We provide a quick response for new skills by developing new programs and training modalities. We also are working with schools and youth-serving organizations to enhance the talent pipeline that industry needs.” She continues by sharing that the most common challenge that she sees manufacturing facing is “the alignment of skills — commonly referred to as the skills gap. The impact of technology on the industry is also a challenge as industry works to keep up with the growth of technology, and we (as a training institution) work to keep up with the projected needs for skilled workers.”
HGR Industrial Surplus Inc. annually awards a scholarship to a high school senior who has been accepted by an institution of higher education for the next academic year to pursue a degree or certification in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) field. This includes, but is not limited to, the fields of engineering, engineering technology, electrical, mechanical, welding, manufacturing, or construction. This year, one student from Euclid High School will be awarded a $2,000 scholarship.
Scholarship guidelines are as follows:
1. The applicant must be active in any facet of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math).
2. The applicant must be in good academic standing at his or her high school.
3. The applicant should be a senior.
4. The applicant must be accepted into an institution of higher education or a trade or technical school for the next academic year.
5. Financial need will be considered.
Those applying for the HGR Industrial Surplus scholarship should submit the following materials when applying:
1. A completed scholarship application.
2. A 350-word autobiography.
3. A 350-word statement explaining why this scholarship is important to you, including your financial need.
4. A minimum of one letter of reference. Up to three letters of reference will be accepted. Letters of reference should be from teachers, counselors, coaches, employers, mentors, etc. rather than from family or friends.
5. Scholarship Submission Deadline: All materials should be submitted here by April 15, 2017.