Rich Little, a welding engineer at United Launch Alliance, the space vehicle manufacturing company that manufactured the Atlas Delta and Vulcan Centaur launch vehicles, says that incoming welders will need preparation in the basics, including shield metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding. He adds that on top of that, it would be great for them:
to learn some computers, electrical, systems, robotics—and start to understand that not all welding today is shield metal arc welding anymore, and these systems get very complicated. So, it almost becomes an engineering level of understanding on many systems [and that] if a technician is trying to go into aerospace or really any manufacturing discipline that there is, whether that be automotive, or shipbuilding… having a knowledge of cycle times and manufacturing efficiency is important.
Rich also fills us in on a particularly interesting solid-state welding process often used in aerospace, friction stir welding:
It’s widely used because it’s a solid-state welding process that doesn’t necessarily deteriorate the mechanical properties of the base material. So, we’re not necessarily heating materials. We’re taking them into that—the technical term I like to use is “a mushy stage”—prior to melting and joining two materials together. Various methods of friction stir welding [are used] in various applications.
Dr. Linda Molnar is a scientist and entrepreneur with more than 20 years’ experience in the life sciences and chemical industries. She’s integrated her scientific research and engineering background with commercialization for startups and international government, and business environments. Currently, Dr. Molnar is a National Science Foundation Program Director involved with a very new program called the Convergence Accelerator. In this episode, she describes the program and its philosophy:
The premise for “convergence” research is that the big problems we’re facing in the world today are not going to be solved by one discipline or one sector. We need to get the brightest minds in the world working across disciplines and across sectors to tackle the issues currently facing humanity. The “acceleration” part comes in when we’re able to identify an area of convergence research that can result in deliverables for the American people in a three-year timeframe. By approaching big problems this way, we set ourselves up for having real positive impact for society.
It’s a great time to start focusing on robotics and automation, says Chief Workforce Officer of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, Lisa Masciantonio, because it will provide a lifelong learning journey with continuing opportunities for career evolution. Robotics and automation technologies and changing and expanding rapidly and that means that manufacturers need a workforce that can keep pace with the changes. Masciantonio sees a large skills gap that her Institute is addressing with new competency models, program audits and endorsements. In the podcast, she describes three levels of robotics technicians:
We’ve created, with our experts across our ecosystem, a competency framework, focused on the Industry 4.0 robotic career pathways, where you look at the competencies at the robotic technician level. Those are the fundamental skills. Things like mechanical systems, maintenance and troubleshooting, electronics and controls, electrical systems, safety, robot programming, fluid power, PLC.
As they become more experienced, and they get more on-the-job training, they would become more specialized. They’d move into an advanced Industry 4.0 Specialist role.
Then a big gap in the manufacturing workforce is at the Robotic Integrator level. What we’re learning that the manufacturers themselves are actually in need of very experienced people to focus on the internal workings of using that automated equipment or that robot. And they would be focused on really key, more applied technologies like augmented reality or virtual reality, simulations, offline programming—making sure that the systems are interoperable across the manufacturing floor.
Sarah Boisvert has put her 30+ years of experience in the design, development, and commercialization of high technology products, digital fabrication, laser machining and 3D printing to excellent use as the founder and CEO of the Fab Lab Hub, the Co-founder of the New Collar Network, and the author of the book, The New Collar Workforce. In this episode, she shares what her research has revealed employers – particularly in manufacturing – are looking for and the new ways that operators and technicians can demonstrate skills competency. From her interview:
On the technical side, one of the most prevalent skills that people were looking for was digital skills. Today, if you’re running a welding machine, you also have to be able to look at a CAD design and determine what are the parameters…So, your operator has to be able to look at a CAD file, and be able to, not just have the G-code pre-programmed so that it fixes things, but be able to really get beyond that and to make the kinds of adjustments that will ensure good quality parts.
As an employer, if somebody comes to me, and they tell me they have a badge in running a CNC machine, I want to know that they’ve run a CNC machine, right? That they’ve been in the trenches. And they know what to do when…like, you’re running a metals 3D printer, and it catches on fire! I want them to know what to do! I don’t want it to be a theoretical exercise…A badge program has to have currency for the student and for the employer.
In 2020, Intel and the Maricopa Community College District issued a joint press release announcing their partnership to launch the first associate degree program in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Carlos Contreras with Intel notes a sense of urgency around this technology because of the speed at which it is being adopted by a wide variety of industry sectors. Partnerships between educational institutions and industry provide a collaborative model that is custom-built to address the speed of the transition in the region. Working together, the colleges and Intel hope to bring the U.S. workforce up to the AI skill level of countries such as South Korea, India, Singapore. In this episode, Bassam Matar from Chandler Gilbert Community College describes the design and roll-out of their AAS degree and certificate program, both of which are designed to expand digital readiness for the future of work. Ultimately, says Contreras, as a company, Intel’s goal “by 2030 is to reach 30 countries, 30,000 institutions and get 30 million students skilled in artificial intelligence.”