Posted by Kagan Yaran
The use of additive manufacturing (AM) is growing rapidly in industries such as defense, auto, medical devices, and manufacturing as the technologies become more readily available, more advanced, and affordable. This growth gives rise to a dual challenge: the need to attract the next generation of workers with the twenty-first century skill sets for AM, and to train at least some of the incumbent workforce in AM processes and applications.
I recently attended the Additive Manufacturing in Defense Forum organized by Deloitte Consulting LLP, where participants discussed topics such as security, intellectual property, data management, quality control, US Military AM Strategy, and workforce development. One discussion I particularly enjoyed concerned workforce development, where Leanne Gluck from AmericaMakes, Col. Patrick Kumashiro from the U.S. Air Force, and John Forsythe from Deloitte Consulting LLP discussed efforts and challenges in developing AM talent.
Challenges in attracting and training talent exist at all levels
According to the panelists, the use of AM impacts three major categories of workers: managers, designers and engineers, and technicians and operators. Ms. Gluck said the feedback America Makes received from its industry partners shows that challenges include insufficient skills using current design and analytical tools, lack of training for proper maintenance, and a lack of use cases to prove the value of AM. Ms. Gluck added that there is no single strategic approach developed to educate and train those three major workforce categories, since each will need specific tools and skill sets for their respective roles.
Organizational leaders generally understand the need to develop a strategy for developing the AM workforce. However, leaders recognize that skepticism still exists, from chief engineers to mid- to high-level managers, about using AM technologies. Some decision makers balk at such organizational change; perhaps viewing AM as a risky, unproven manufacturing approach and may fear that AM technology will make their skills obsolete.Some have simply not yet accepted AM’s ability or potential to manufacture mission critical parts.
Panelists also discussed how the limited number of qualified faculty in US universities that teach AM or conduct AM research may hamper the ability to narrow the skills gap. One audience member asserted that there are only a few universities and community colleges that offer AM programs or AM courses as part of their curriculum.
How are organizations making investments in the workforce?
Col. Kumashiro discussed one model that could be used to help close the skills gap in AM. According to Kumashiro when the Air Force saw a talent gap for its logistics officers in the supply chain, it mandated those officers take courses to be educated and trained on supply chain management. However, in order to apply a similar approach to AM, he asserted that the Air Force needs to first develop curricula for basic, advanced, and enterprise level AM training to prepare its officers and the civilian workforce.
Many organizations have made investments to build the AM workforce with twenty-first century skill sets. Some of these initiatives include virtual training environments, hands-on laboratories, apprenticeships, and many others. At least one company has started to donate 3D printers to US schools to help train the next generation workforce and help develop future designers and engineers. In the long run, this approach could help cultivate future engineers, designers, and technicians. However, in the short run, depending on the skill sets needed for the industry, the AM workforce will likely come from vocational or trade schools, community colleges, and universities.
The future looks bright for the next generation of the AM workforce
Panelists mentioned the public and private sectors’ investments both in the technology and in the workforce despite all the challenges mentioned above. Ms. Gluck mentioned the availability of a $300 3D printer and added that today’s children (K-12), who are already using 3D printers at school or at home, could be future engineers, designers, and technicians with the right skill sets and training. Finally, the panel discussed that AM can provide the opportunity to challenge millennials, who tend to look for something different from their careers and may not stay in their jobs as long as baby boomers did.1 AM can offer millennials an opportunity to work on an exciting, emerging technology. The next generation AM workforce will likely come into industry or join the military with a stronger knowledge of AM than the current generation, and may serve at the frontline in solving problems in ways that subtractive manufacturing could not. However, as the AM workforce grows, other challenges will emerge that need to be addressed. Such challenges include retaining qualified personnel in the field, attracting more individuals interested in the technology, and competing for jobs internationally.
Interested in learning more?
Deloitte has a wealth of reports, videos, and podcasts, as well as a free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) ‘3D Opportunity: Additive Manufacturing for Business Leaders’ by Dr. Mark Cotteleer.