Engineering, right? With a big side of practical experience.
Rexroth has been deeply involved in collaborations with high schools and colleges, helping to provide the kind of practical, hands-on training needed to jump right into a successful career in motion control. But it is still only a small fraction of interested individuals who have access to this kind of apprenticeship experience.
So what about the rest of the nation?
One point of view is that, given a choice between someone who has been in college for four years and someone who has been working hard at something, you’re better off choosing the person who has been working. Send them for needed training and education, and it will mean more to them because they’ve been in the situations where they’ll need the information. It will provide context for the things they learn and help them get more out of that learning.
Another point of view is that we have to start young, providing experiences in elementary school that will help students see the point of their STEM classes in high school, and get high school graduates into their college classes better prepared. With a stronger foundation, students will be able to become confident engineers, and bringing them into the factory or the research facility will be an efficient and satisfying process for them and for their employers.
For this approach to work, we need more STEM education for teachers.
But there are also those who see an opportunity for manufacturing careers to be once again a good alternative to college. Low-skill labor is less important for more automated factories and printing/packaging environments. With the right kind of programming and design, though, operators with technical training rather than classroom hours can be successful in Industry 4.0. An alternate path to satisfying work is something our country could use.
For this kind of work, we might still need a stronger focus on STEM and on problem solving in K-12. But we also need to design factories and production lines with smart, hardworking — not necessarily highly educated — people in mind.