Educating for the Manufacturing Workplace

by Barry Waldman

Educating for the Manufacturing Workplace

I soar with WINGS. Let me tell you why.
I learn lots of skills that help me reach the sky.

I love and accept who I am on the inside
and know my emotions are nothing to hide.

Life’s full of surprises that make me feel different ways.
If I can control myself, I will have much better days.

I understand the choices I make should be what’s best for me to do,
and what happens is on me and not any of you.”

I understand others are unique. I want to learn more about everyone I meet.
I want to step into their shoes and see what they are going through.

I am a friend. I support and trust. Working together is a must.

Kind and caring I will be. I listen to you. You listen to me.

I soar with WINGS. I just told you why.
All of these things are why I fly high.

That is the Wings for Kids creed, something every child in the Charleston-based afterschool program Wings for Kids learns by heart. Wings for Kids focuses on empirically supported social-emotional learning that children need to transition into successful adulthood. Individuals with high social-emotional IQs (SEQ) get along with people, demonstrate empathy, work well in teams, accept accountability, possess leadership skills and generally acquire the soft skills so important in business today.

Manufacturing Needs Soft Skills

It might come as a surprise to many that the manufacturing sector covets these skills. While STEM skills are critical to the operations of modern factories, so are the soft skills described above. That’s because today’s advanced manufacturing is nothing like the smokestack industries of yesteryear. Advanced manufacturing facilities are clean and quiet, and require a smaller workforce equipped with emerging technology skills in cloud infrastructure, IT automation and artificial intelligence.

Several other common misconceptions are that robots are taking over, that factories employ mostly unskilled labor and that those without advanced degrees do rote work. In fact, robots cannot operate without a skilled workforce to program, operate and maintain them; most employees in manufacturing are highly skilled; and even technicians on the shop floor must have a broad range of technical skills and the ability to think critically and collaborate. The days of specialized, low-skilled jobs — like welding and data entry – have given way to jobs that require the ability to work in digital environments and adapt to constant change.

Graduate Schools Are Adapting

For college and graduate schools, that means shaping their curricula around the new manufacturing paradigm. Higher education is working with industry to produce educated professionals capable of running today’s factories, particularly as manufacturing has become a staple of area employment. The Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina estimates that manufacturing has an economic impact in the state of about $200 billion, producing directly or indirectly 30% of jobs. Several of the Lowcountry’s largest employers – Boeing, Volvo Cars, Mercedes Benz Vans, Robert Bosch, Nucor Steel, WestRock paper mill and Cummins Turbo Technologies – are manufacturers. Those companies alone account for roughly 13,000 local jobs.

The College of Charleston, The Citadel, MUSC and other Lowcountry institutions of higher education are shaping their offerings around these realities. They provide a wide variety of engineering, technology, business, project management, organizational psychology, math, science and international business degrees sought by these employers.

In addition, they are equipping these STEM masters with the soft skills – the skills that boost social-emotional IQ – so coveted in today’s workplaces.

The Desperate Need for Manufacturing Talent

“The engineer of today is not only an expert in digitalization; in higher education we need to develop a student’s emotional intelligence to deal with other people and the cultural intelligence to think differently and work with different kinds of people. The liberal arts can really help to form global experts and managers,​” said Kameelah Martin, dean of the graduate school at the University of Charleston.

In part because so many students harbor misconceptions about manufacturing, the nation is expected to suffer two million critical job vacancies in manufacturing by 2028, stifling our ability to become self-sufficient in technologies essential to economic independence, like renewable power generation and storage, and artificial intelligence. The economic impact of this talent shortage is estimated by Deloitte at $2 trillion annually.

These tech workers of the future will need more than social-emotional intelligence: they will need a global outlook. Again, universities are responding to this need.

Combining STEM and EQ

“The engineer of the future will be working in global teams,” said Knudt Flor, College of Charleston’s Senior Vice President for Innovation and Industry Engagement, and former president of BMW in South Carolina. Flor says South Carolina will need to do a better job of teaching its students foreign languages – German for the automotive industry, French for the chemical industry and Mandarin Chinese for everything else.

Only with this combination of STEM skills taught in math, science and engineering programs and the soft skills learned in liberal arts courses can today’s students meet the demands of the new world of manufacturing that is creating many of the best jobs of the future.