the future of manufacturing = (education + industry)^innovation

in robots @ work, robots in education by Sue Sokoloski

We’ve all heard the dire predictions and read the alarming headlines about the future of manufacturing in America –a labor shortage is looming, a skills gap is growing. But with every media barrage, comes the need to dig deeper to find, in the words of Paul Harvey, the rest of the story.

Some data is clearly ominous: 67% of American manufacturers are reporting a shortage of qualified workers; 70% of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong economy, but only 40% of parents encourage their kids to enter manufacturing; the average age of a skilled manufacturing worker is 56, and that number is rising.

So how will American manufacturers solve for the workforce of tomorrow?  By academic institutions and educators working with industry, with the power of innovation coming from a human-safe, collaborative robot named Baxter.

Check out these examples….

Starting ‘em young

The Virginia Beach City Public School system is a big supporter of STEM education – probably not news to anyone. But Patrick Konopnicki, their Director of Technical and Career Education, believes that the manufacturing pipeline needs to start at the elementary school level, not at the graduate or baccalaureate level. “Baxter has been amazing at getting kids excited about science and technology”, says Konopnicki. Just take a look at the reception Baxter received from the 5th graders when he arrived at the Advanced Technology Center in Virginia Beach, and then imagine the future.

Training tomorrow’s workforce

Florida State College at Jacksonville is using Baxter in their Advanced Technology curriculum. “Robots such as Baxter are becoming a part of manufacturing processes all over the world. Manufacturing is becoming more technology-rich and the people that work in manufacturing have to consistently learn new technologies,” said FSCJ Director of Academic Systems, Ernie Friend. “Baxter will not only provide the foundation to teach people about robotics in manufacturing, but it will also help attract new people to manufacturing,” said Friend.

Flambeau2Joining forces: schools and industry

Flambeau in Baraboo, Wisconsin is dealing with the aging workforce issue. Todd Spencer, Flambeau’s chief administrative officer, said many longtime employees at the company’s plastics plants are nearing retirement. Manufacturers need an influx of prospective employees who have undergone quality training on up-to-date equipment. “We’ve got to fill up the pipeline,” Spencer said. In Baraboo, local industries and educators have partnered for a common goal – “we want to educate our kids”, and they want to show them that manufacturing is not your grandpa’s industry anymore.Flambeau offers tours designed to show students that working on a production floor doesn’t mean getting coated in grime – on one particular Friday they watched Baxter contribute to the construction of John Deere lawnmower parts.

Baxter has proven to be an innovative educational platform from K-12 through graduate school – next we’ll explore examples of innovation in some surprising new areas.



About the Author

Sue Sokoloski

Sue has spent the last two decades marketing for emerging technologies, building new categories, and applying science to the art of marketing. It took one look at Baxter to sign on to Rethink Robotics – a human-safe robot out to change the world. When not promoting “all things Sawyer and Baxter”, she is focused on “all things food”: where to eat it, how to prepare it, how to write another cookbook about it.

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