STEM Education: Do it for the Kids… and Your Company's Future

March 6, 2013
Supporting STEM education provides manufacturers an opportunity to create 'shared value.'

As the United States works toward rebuilding domestic manufacturing in an effort to foster growth, companies will be seeking out the next generation of their manufacturing workforce. A lack of domestic talent in the U.S. will force companies to look to other shores. Those same companies have been impacted by the digital revolution that has and will continue to change how manufacturers design, develop and bring new products to market.

The new manufacturing workforce is comprised of skilled workers that require higher education and specialized degrees: engineers, data scientists and software developers. Because of this, lagging achievement and enrollment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in the United States is and will be one of the larger issues facing our domestic ability to fill those employment opportunities. Securing the future of domestic manufacturing must begin with a strong commitment to the advancement and encouragement of STEM education.

Supporting STEM education programs and initiatives gives manufacturers, suppliers and product development technology providers like PTC an opportunity to create what Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter calls “shared value” – a more targeted, strategic version of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs we see companies engaging in today. At its foundation, shared value is designed to build connections between a firm, its employees and its community – not at the expense of profitable growth, but rather in support of it. For the manufacturing industry, the STEM education opportunity is a clear example of how to create shared value.

At PTC, we’re in lock step with the manufacturing industry as we’re continually looking to deliver technologies that drive innovation by helping manufacturers build smarter product design, development and service processes. While we previously engaged in CSR programs by doing things like donating playgrounds to local communities, shareholders wanted PTC to make profits, pay dividends and leave the donation decisions to them. We had come face to face with that conflict between business priorities and a desire to connect and support local communities and our industry. Since then, however, PTC has embraced Porter’s notion of “shared value” through dedicated support of STEM education programs such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and the Department of Defense’s STARBASE initiative.

In order to commit to and achieve “shared value,” we felt our support had to go beyond financial sponsorship. For FIRST’s robotics competitions and similar programs like the Real World Design Challenge (RWDC), PTC provides students with Creo and Windchill, our CAD and PLM tools, to design and develop their robots. For several years, we have hosted competition kick-off and unveiling events for these programs at our headquarters in Needham, Mass., and a number of our employees offer their time and energy to serve as mentors for these student robotics teams. In the past year alone, PTC supported over 100 student teams ranging from grade school to high school level. We’re also working to develop teacher certification programs for educators looking for a way to support STEM education while also receiving the development credits they need for their careers.

Increasing Support for PLM Education

Meaningful experience with PLM and an understanding of the importance of collaboration have become a necessary skill for graduates as a result of the globalization of product design, the explosion of product complexity and increasing regulatory pressures. In recognition of the need for increased support around PLM education, PTC recently announced a partnership with the NASA Glenn Research Center and Case Western Reserve University in support of the Strategic Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering (SPACE) initiative, a program that brings global leaders together in product development and partners them with colleges of engineering and business to catalyze new partnerships in product development research and education, focusing on PLM education.

So how does this help PTC and the manufacturing industry? Certainly, positive recognition from local communities across the United States doesn’t hurt one bit, but many of the “shared value” benefits come downstream. PTC’s customers often partner with us in supporting student teams, strengthening our relationship with them. Students who participate in these programs and go on to become engineers will have been exposed to PTC’s CAD and PLM tools from a young age. Not only does this provide them with tangible, real-world experience for their resume, they are now more inclined to pursue job opportunities where they would use PTC’s tools.

Manufacturers have much to gain from learning to think in shared value terms: aligning society with business can certainly be a mutually beneficial way to impact the community and an organization’s success, and engaging students by supporting after-school programs that foster STEM education is only one way to pursue these initiatives.

When a manufacturer engages its community in ways that encourage the growth and development of its industry, the manufacturer, community and industry all see the benefits of that shared value. In a world where business increasingly has been viewed as a contributor to social, environmental, and economic problems, where companies have been perceived to be prospering at the expense of the broader community, programs seeking to create shared value can help manufacturers change the conversation and show they can drive societal change while still creating growth and supporting their industries now and in the future.

John Stuart is the senior vice president of Global Education and country manager of PTC Eastern Europe. He is responsible for providing the vision and guidance in developing PTC’s education program.

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