How Higher Education’s 'Fatal Flaw' Impacts Manufacturing

I recently attended a two-day Automation Conference held in Chicago. I have to say that the one keynote session that drew the most emotion from the attendees, was that of Gary R. Bertoline, Ph.D., Dean of Purdue University.

GE IP Skills GapThe session was planned for about 55 minutes but ran at least 30 minutes longer due to the passionate response from those in the room. What Gary was covering was a “fatal flaw” that occurred in 1955 when the U.S. school system decided to focus on academic achievements as opposed to applied engineering and applied computer sciences. As a result, the schools became good at producing good theorists without the technical grounding of practical experience.

As the discussion flowed, many CPG brand manufacturers in the room agreed that today's problem was getting the right people with the technical background to run the plant, as opposed to graduates with a skillset aimed more at managing the business. You need both, but the balance of experienced applied skills was lacking, and in some cases, not recognized by the manufacturers themselves during the interview process (i.e. Human Resources always favored the degree student to the applied technical student).

As a byline, I started working at 16 years old, under a technical apprentice program at Rolls Royce Aero engines, and undertook part-time college courses that were funded by the company. Sadly, the year after mine was the last one before the apprentice scheme was mothballed. For me, having that engineering background has proven to be valuable time and time again in applying the business value our systems bring, to the practical use to enable this to happen.

So where do we go from here to redress the workforce balance? Well, the consensus of the room was that there needs to be a better accreditation process in place for applied programs, and that’s one thing that Gary is working on. He is asking for manufacturers to reach out to their local colleges to start discussion on how they can be engaged in this transformation.

Personally, I am going to start discussions with the contacts I made from Purdue and Berkeley around collaboration opportunities. Both universities presented keynote speeches and both called out the GE “Industrial Internet” in their presentations as an example of a global company driving manufacturing forward in the 21st century.

What is your perspective, what can we do to help our industry stay globally competitive into the next decade?

Barry Lynch's picture

Barry Lynch

Barry, Global Marketing Director – Automation Hardware at GE's Automation & Controls business, passionately believes that connected machines, mobile data analytics and workforce enablement don’t have to be hurdles in business today. He leads the strategic direction of the company’s automation and information systems programs to help customers apply the power of the Industrial Internet to their businesses. By connecting machines, data, insights and people, our technology solutions deliver critical insight for greater operational efficiency, effectiveness and optimization. Learn more about how Barry works at GE on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @BarryLynchGE.

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