Why Aren't Colleges and Universities Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow? Too Few Jobs, Yet Too Few Workers: Engineering Colleges Are Overlooking an Opportunity

Article excerpt

MANUFACTURING WORKFORCE REDUCTIONS AND OUTSOURCING of manufacturing operations overseas have reportedly cost 2.7 million American workers their jobs in the last four years. Yet, many manufacturing jobs lie unfilled for months as companies seek workers with the skills they need for these jobs. So, how can we have too few jobs for our workers and too few workers for our jobs--at the same time?

The answer ies in a lack of the proper skills--the skills that would qualify available workers for available jobs. U.S. firms have proven they can compete with lower wage producers using the productivity gains that advanced information systems and automation technology afford. These measures combined with competency in processing new materials and added value services defy the logic that we should abandon the production sector of our economy. However, the goods producing sector needs to equip itself with new skills, not just new machinery. In part, the fault lies with engineering college and technical schools that are not preparing young men and women for the jobs that will be open to them. In part, it is the fault of the workers--young and old alike--for not ensuring that they have the type of knowledge and hands-on technical skills required in today's high-tech, high-precision, high-quality manufacturing operations.

Engineering colleges continue to prepare graduates for jobs that often do not exist, without a proper appreciation for positions that do exist and indeed what jobs their graduates will take. But, this isn't just about greater concern for the job skills of our graduates. It is also about missed opportunities for additional revenue streams.

Community colleges to internationally recognized universities should be designing curricula that will simultaneously meet the knowledge needs of today's students and the requirements of today's employers. Many educators fail to fully appreciate that 90 percent of their graduates will take jobs in what may be considered manufacturing. And, because they don't realize this, they are not adapting their curricula to provide their students with the knowledge they need to tilt real-world open positions.

What are those missing skills? The Society of Manufacturing Engineers, through its Education Foundation, has identified the following competency gaps in recently hired engineering graduates:

* Project management and team-building

* Clear, persuasive verbal and written communication

* Attentive listening and goal setting

* Supply-chain management and vendor logistics

* Process and discrete manufacturing

* Knowledge of, and appreciation for, foreign cultures, languages, and business practices

Since 1998, SME has awarded more than 30 grants of almost $15. …