A new (and old) way to look at STEM education

In celebration of our parent company’s 10th anniversary, our entire editorial staff authored forward-thinking columns, examining how we think the world and the manufacturing industry will be different in another 10 years. Here’s my take …

Mary Gannon on STEM EducationI am a big believer in the need of a good education for all young people. And there has been so much STEM hype over the last 10 years or so. As such, you’d think that I believe that encouraging these young people to pursue as much post-secondary education in science, technology, mathematics, or engineering as possible. But I’m not.

As manufacturing continues to rapidly evolve with automation and AI—and as the current college format skids towards a bursting bubble of backbreaking debt—something is going to change. It has to.

Perhaps we will see a return to greater prominence of the technical school, where students can gain hands-on experience in machine operations and designs. For example, statistics shared by The Atlantic in 2014 indicated that only about 5% of American youth train in apprenticeship programs, while in Germany, that number is about 60% and there, these apprentices both study and work at the same time. In the U.S., trade school training is viewed as necessary only for kids who can’t or don’t want to go to college, but in Germany, this idea is the best way to develop talent. What an ingenious idea.

This could lead to skilled labor entering the workforce to operate and maintain the complex, automated machinery that is key to modern manufacturing. Or perhaps some of these students will discover a passion for machinery design and move forward to traditional four-year colleges, where they will study engineering.
I would love to see more partnerships between manufacturers and four-year college institutions and technical schools. I am not sure why the apprenticeship idea has gone away in American manufacturing. If it still has a place in many other trades, however, I don’t see why more manufacturers don’t invest in future employees by teaching them the skills they will need to operate, maintain, design and build the machines of the future.

This sometimes is a much better path for a 17- or 18-year old who may not have a career in mind. Especially in a field where nearly 75% of all holders of bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines don’t have jobs in STEM occupations, says a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report.

Perhaps those students bought into the STEM hype without being truly passionate about those fields. Or perhaps they were not as prepared to enter the fields as they could have been. But with more hands-on technical training in the post-secondary arena, we could begin to see qualified, passionate engineers abound who are going to design the next big thing.

A revolution is coming in post-secondary education. And looking forward to 2026, it makes sense that the idea-makers, the designers, the inventors, will be the ones to push that particular needle forward.


And see what our other editors said:

Lee Teschler on how we’ll see robots building spacecraft in orbit

Lisa Eitel on the coming age of driverless cars

Paul Heney on the future of AI



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