Industrial Automation Education

Educational System Limiting United States Manufacturing 

Manufacturing automation has been doing the heavy lifting to improve productivity in the United States while the country’s educational systems continue to have disturbingly low productivity. After talking with management of many manufacturing companies, reviewing surveys and statistics, it is obvious to me that this situation is dramatically out of control.

The educational system in the United States is just not getting the job done.

And this is a major constraint on finding people suitable for basic manufacturing jobs let alone people to work with the technology required for manufacturing to be competitive on world markets. Further, this is a severe limitation hampering United States companies from designing leadership automation systems and creating machines. Recent information illustrates that the U.S. education system cannot turn money alone into positive results – with billions of dollars pumped into education over 40 years. The “No Child Left Behind” initiatives are a decade old. An investment of over $80 billion in federal stimulus since 2009 that was intended to lift student performance quickly has resulted in no significant gain. The September 12, 2012 study, “Throwing Money at Education Isn’t Working,” was conducted on data from all 50 states by SBS analyst Kristen De Peña. The study was part of an ongoing state and municipal fiscal crisis project by Sunshine Review. The study concluded that money is not the answer and shows that states spending the most do not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor do they have the highest average graduation rates. Each year, the United State spends billions of dollars on education. In 2010, total annual spending on education exceeded $809 billion dollars which is higher than any other industrialized nation, and more than the spending of France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia combined. From 1970 to 2012, total average per pupil expenditures in the U.S. has more than doubled. Despite higher levels of funding, student test scores are substantially lower in the United States than in many other nations. Manufacturing The Manufacturing Institute report, “Boiling point – The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing,” says that seventy-four percent of respondents indicated workforce shortages or skills deficiencies are having a significant impact on manufacturers’ ability to expand operations or improve productivity. These jobs require the most training, and are traditionally among the hardest manufacturing jobs to fill with existing talent. Survey respondents punctuated the most serious skills deficiencies with existing employees.

  • Inadequate problem-solving skills – 52%
  • Lack of basic technical training (degree, industry certification or vocational training) – 43%
  • Inadequate basic employability skills (attendance timeliness, work ethic, etc.) – 40%
  • Inadequate technology/computer skills – 36%
  • Inadequate math skills – 30%
  • Inadequate reading/writing/communicating skills – 29%

Thoughts & Observations

The problems with the United States educational system is analogous to a dying business with investors that think throwing money at the problems will fix it. Unfortunately government money seems to mindlessly flow into education programs. I believe there are fundamental structural, process, and management problems with the educational system that need to be sorted out. It is unclear how this can happen with the layers of bureaucracy. The skills crisis is here and now. Educators and industry need to make changes. We should learn from Germany. Professor Verl’s comments are consistent with my observations and interactions with German companies and educators. In Germany, company management, educators, and government understand how to make education work and the result is they remain a powerful manufacturing force in the world. German exports have held their share of the global market against China and other emerging countries, even as the U.S. share has plummeted. Many of the companies that can’t find skilled people should look in the mirror. These are the same companies that downsized by shedding talent. The management did not understand the value of talent as an asset for growth. They failed to understand that talent could also mentor their new hires, making them more efficient and passing on tribal knowledge. It is disheartening to hear U.S. executives give speeches about these problems when they have moved significant parts of their R&D and manufacturing offshore. As a result, they terminated skilled and talented people in the U.S. In contrast, it is curious that many overseas companies doing business in the U.S. have significant R&D and manufacturing centers in the U.S. It is a sad commentary on the education system when the National Association of Manufacturers resorts to a Skills Certification System since the educational system is ineffective. All we need now is for some educators to get involved and ruin this. In 1972, the United Negro College Fund coined the phrase, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This in a nutshell describes the problem for the majority of U.S. citizens due to the ineffective educational system. Reengineering the U.S. educational system may be the most important challenge for manufacturing and the country. Government and bureaucracy continue to be an obstacle to meaningful change. There seems to be too many sacred cows. I was on a school board a number of years ago that was wresting with teacher quality. With my industry background, I suggested using statistical quality control analysis based on student outcomes. When I explained the concept of to them, I became a persona non grata (unwelcome person)! Somehow we have to fix this problem or the United States will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

Education Articles 

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It is a simple fact in today’s industrial environment that the world needs more automation professionals. Physics professor Sam Samanta Ph,D, has developed a very successful industrial automation, instrumentation, and controls education program at Finger Lakes Community College, Victro Campus Center, in Victor, New York.  Professor Samanta is enthusiastic abut making a difference in the lives of students, as well as providing them the tools they need to be successful.  Growing Automation Professionals: Developing Skilled Labor Improves the Economy

Georgia’s THINC Academy Success Closing Skills Gap

Georgia’s THINC Academy. The THINC Academy is working to address the skills gap problem by engaging students with the fundamental knowledge and skills to be productive.  THINC Academy already has a success record adding skilled, motivated, and well-rounded workers to help close the skills gap with their educational approach. Innovative and Engaging Education Approaches: Inspiring & Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce