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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Creating a Globally Competitive Workforce

By Kathie Mahoney, Events Marketing Manager, MassMEP,

"Education is perhaps the single biggest threat to future American prosperity," states Michael Porter in the recently published Council on Competitiveness’s latest report, Innovation Index: Where America Stand.

By the year 2050, India and China will have, respectively, more than three and four times as many working age residents as the United States. While the US has the third largest population in the world, 80% of manufacturing executives already report a shortage of qualified workers. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) 2005 Skills Gap Report states that "the vast majority of American manufacturers are experiencing a serious shortage of qualified employees, which in turn is causing significant impact to business and the ability of the country as a whole to compete in a global economy." 

In an effort to address this skills shortage, there has been an initiative by the National Science Foundation to work with educational institutions to increase enrollment in the science, technology, engineering, and math programs (STEM).  Several states, including Massachusetts, have begun STEM initiatives at the various educational levels.  Providing greater awareness in these key areas of learning will benefit the manufacturing industry and meet the need of manufacturing companies for a higher skilled and more competitive workforce. 

High Skill Jobs Increase, Low Skill Jobs Decline
According to the US Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, employment in high-skill manufacturing occupations rose 37 percent, an increase in roughly 1.2 million jobs from 1983 to 2002.  During the same period, low-skill jobs declined 25 percent, a loss of roughly 2 million workers, and mid-skill positions declined by almost 18 percent, or roughly 1.3 million.  Reports state that graduates are leaving Massachusetts, industries are not able to find skilled workers to fill job openings, and Massachusetts is losing manufacturing jobs. And although Massachusetts has lost manufacturing jobs, productivity in manufacturing has increased. The fact is that current manufacturing jobs require higher skills; we need to address these needs or more jobs will be lost. 

How can we address this need?  What is available to build an awareness of manufacturing for a 10 or an 11 year old?  In this day of intense media, how do we teach our future workforce about the future of manufacturing? How do we demonstrate the opportunities in manufacturing for good careers, careers where you can have an impact on society, have fun creating something, and nurture a need to work with your hands?

In the 1950’s Mr. Wizard was the science guru on television who sparked an interest in many current engineers. Trying to emulate that science and technology interest in the current tween generation (9-12 year olds) needs to be hands on, quick, and media-driven. 

Engaging Today’s Tweens Through TV
PBS has produced a new show, Design Squad, aimed at interesting the tween generation in engineering.  The contestants are eight high school students with serious engineering aptitude.  They will be divided into teams of four and rack up individual points. The winner will get a $10,000 scholarship from the Intel Foundation.  Auditions for the show involved constructing a chair that would hold the kids’ own weight – made entirely of newspaper and masking tape. The show is set to air in February. 

The Mr. Wizard of the new millennium is Myth Busters, currently on the Discovery Channel.  Each episode takes three urban myths and, through trial and error, the hosts attempt to prove the myth either true or false. An example is you are at the gas station pumping gas and your cell phone rings.  Do you answer it or let voice mail pick it up for fear of causing a fire? 

In addition to these television shows, several organizations in the area are trying to touch the tween aged students and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering, and science to help meet the greater need for STEM programs at an earlier age. 

Hands On Programs in Math, Engineering, and Manufacturing
Raytheon has developed a Math Moves U program that focuses on math and celebrities.  How does Math help a speed skater?  A soccer player?  The program provides a math problem on-line for students to solve; once completed they submit their result and there is the potential to win a $1,000 scholarship for themselves and a monetary prize for their school. 

MassMEP, through a grant with the Regional Employment Board, teaches area youth at risk about Lean manufacturing utilizes the Time Wise Solution Lean 101 course and takes the students on a tour of a manufacturing facility.  During the Lean 101 course, the students simulate a manufacturing plant floor and learn how make changes to their work environment to improve their job performance and thus increase productivity for the mock company.  The skills learned during the simulation are emphasized during the plant tour, where the students see the results of the lean implementation. 

Another popular program at the middle schools and high schools is the FIRST program, founded by technology entrepreneur Dean Kamen. Schools form teams to compete against other schools in different categories.  Each team receives a set of requirements, tools, and building materials; from these they must produce a product that can meet the requirements, using only the tools and materials provided.  Requirements can include a product that can shoot a basketball into a hoop.  Competitions are held at the regional, state, and national level and include teams from all over the world.   

STEM Symposium, Fall 2007
In order to increase awareness of these programs and the opportunities for both educators and industry leaders, MassMEP is hosting a STEM Symposium – Academia and Industry Collaborating Towards a Globally Competitive Workforce in the Fall 2007.  The program will provide breakout sessions on various programs, such as the ones mentioned above, and others. 

If you are interested in learning more about the symposium, being a partner or sponsor, please contact Kathie Mahoney at 508-831-7020 or .  This is an opportunity for different venues to work together to build a great workforce and become involved to have an impact on your future.  

A complete copy of Michael Porter’s The Competitiveness Index: Where America Stands, can be purchased from the Council on Competitiveness for $10 at


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