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Manufacturing Education

Let’s Bring Manufacturing Education into the 21st Century

Hello, reader—Brian Kippen here, owner and founder of KAD. Welcome to another installment of our new series, The Future of Manufacturing, wherein I share the problems we face in the manufacturing industry and what solutions KAD is testing. My goal is to make this series a collaborative process, and I would love to hear your thoughts on these topics. Drop me a line so we can connect and work to reinvigorate the manufacturing industry together.

Teaching manufacturing at a vocational high school has opened my eyes to a troubling disconnect between what students are being taught about manufacturing and the current practices that are relevant at actual precision machine shops. 

Students taking manufacturing courses at the high school or college level are learning from a curriculum that was first developed in the 1940s. Although these texts have been updated to some degree over the years, they come nowhere close to reflecting the realities of the modern manufacturing landscape. 

To make matters worse, the equipment available to students also tends to be extremely outdated—likely due to the high costs associated with equipment upgrades.

Make Manufacturing Education More Relevant

History is great for a history class, but manufacturing courses must be future-facing.

If I teach a manufacturing course once a day, and I’m starting my curriculum way back in the 1940s, after a full year, I’ll have only touched on the basics of modern production manufacturing methods. It’s the equivalent of beginning an automotive course by showing students how to shoe a horse. 

While learning the history of US manufacturing is undoubtedly important, it’s far more crucial for students pursuing a manufacturing career to have a solid understanding of the principles of modern precision machining, combined with hands-on experience using today’s equipment.  

Unfortunately, right now, it’s easier to learn modern machining methods on TikTok than in vocational school courses.

Because our industry is constantly evolving, it’s only sensible that the curriculum we teach in educational settings keeps pace with modern technology. 

The shop equipment in the school where I teach dates back to the 1970s. While it’s better than nothing, it’s hard to prepare students for today’s manufacturing environment using machines that are more than 50 years behind the current technology. It’s like teaching a computer course and asking students to learn on typewriters.

Outdated manufacturing technology doesn’t just set students back in their education. It also fails to highlight the exciting facets of modern manufacturing necessary to continue attracting a diverse body of new recruits to our industry.

How Manufacturing Industry Leaders Can Help 

As precision machine shop owners, we must consider our expectations as employers and help the industry reach that level by bringing manufacturing education into the 21st century. 

Here are a few ways we can drive the modernization of manufacturing education:

  • Serve on advisory boards. In this capacity, we can educate schools on the specific skills and technologies students must learn to be effective members of the modern manufacturing workforce. 
  • Donate funds for purchasing and maintaining modern equipment. Advising schools on which machines to buy isn’t helpful if the schools can’t afford those machines. If 50 machine shops donated $1,000 a year for five years, we could provide a vocational school with $250,000 in modern machining equipment.
  • Host open houses. Inviting students into our precision machine shops lends visibility into modern manufacturing and helps dispel common misconceptions about manufacturing careers. When students see machining in action, it helps create excitement about the field and demonstrates the continued relevance of the industry.
  • Offer internships and other educational opportunities. Giving students a chance to learn onsite at a shop lets them experience cutting-edge technology firsthand and reinforces the potential of linking their coursework to a future career.

Here’s a fun fact for you: I barely knew that manufacturing careers existed until I was in my 20s, and now I own a precision machine shop! 

How can today’s students realize their full potential if they don’t see the complete picture of what’s possible? Let’s work together to show students what manufacturing truly is today: innovative, exciting, and full of opportunity.

What are your thoughts on the best ways to make manufacturing education more relevant? Reach out and tell me your thoughts!