As smart factory relies on advanced technology to enable production processes, it requires today’s U.S. manufacturing workforce to have higher levels of technical knowledge and competence than ever before. These evolving dynamics, along with the impending “silver tsunami” of more than 2.5 million baby-boomer retirements from the industry by 2025, are contributing to a skills gap that will continue to grow until a solution is found.
“The skills gap is not the manufacturing industry’s problem to solve alone – it will require collaboration between industry, government, academia and local communities to develop programs, which encourage young people to focus on acquiring the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills that are needed to secure our ability to compete in a global economy,” explains Kylene Zenk, director, manufacturing practice group, Kronos.
Zenk points out that innovative manufacturers are proactively partnering with schools and communities to boost awareness for the exciting careers within the industry, as well as to create specific educational programs to prepare students for such careers.
One company that is currently working within the education system to prepare the future workforce is BAE Systems. The following is the company's explanation of its strategy and tactics.
How BAE Systems Inspires the Next Generation Manufacturing Workforce
U.S. manufacturing firms have always faced the challenge of developing our workforces to match the needs of the markets and customers we serve. Building our greatest asset – our people – enables us to be competitive in an increasingly competitive world. Two dynamics over the next decade make this challenge more daunting than ever. First, our baby boomers, who have served our industry with distinction for a generation, are approaching the age where we typically see the election of a well-deserved retirement. As this generation retires, companies are looking at ways to ensure effective knowledge transfer between the retirees and the next generation.
The second dynamic is the trend of an increasing technical complexity of manufacturing. As we continue to develop the state-of-the art, advanced manufacturing technology as an industry, the skillsets our workforce needs will continue to evolve. This will require greater levels of technical acumen.
These trends will require U.S. manufacturing companies to expand their focus on - and - investment in workforce development, even if they do not need to grow their manufacturing workforce. Those that are growing their workforce will have even greater challenges.
BAE Systems Electronic Systems, headquartered in New Hampshire, is heading into a significant ramp in production capacity, which will require us to hire hundreds of new employees per year over the next several years. The challenge of both developing and growing our manufacturing workforce is a critical element of our business strategy.
BAE Systems Electronic Systems produces advanced electronics products for commercial aerospace and defense customers. The Electronic Systems business is part of BAE Systems, Inc., which is an international defense, aerospace, and security company delivering a full range of products and services for air, land, and naval forces, as well as advanced electronics, security, information technology solutions and customer support services. BAE Systems, Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of BAE Systems plc, employs 32,000 in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and Israel. BAE Systems plc employs more than 83,000 people in more than 40 countries.
A key element of our strategy to develop and grow our manufacturing workforce is to develop a rich set of partnerships with academia. It is our hope that this will foster interest in careers in the world of high-technology manufacturing and influence academic curriculum to ensure that prospective future employees receive the education they need to be successful in our environment.
BAE Systems works closely with schools and programs that promote and advance students’ aspirational and technical acumen in engineering and manufacturing career fields from an early age. For over a decade, the company has been a sponsor of and has provided team mentors for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics. FIRST is a competition in which high school students on sponsored teams are coached by engineers from BAE Systems to design and produce robots that compete in sports style competitions against other schools. Engaging would-be engineers and manufacturers at an early age shows them how exciting a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields can be while maintaining a robust talent pipeline for both us and the industry as a whole.
BAE Systems offers high school internships, which provide an opportunity for real-life, hands-on experiences with technology and materials not found in standard classrooms. These internships assist students as they begin planning their next steps following high school graduation.
After high school, BAE Systems’ involvement with academia expands into community colleges. The company has partnered with local schools in recent years to develop curriculum to provide technical and community college students with the skills they need to succeed in specialized disciplines within the high-technology manufacturing field.
As an example, BAE Systems and the Nashua Community College in Nashua, New Hampshire have partnered to develop a “Microelectronics Bootcamp.” This 10-week program is designed to equip students with the skills necessary for a career in microelectronics. The company has also partnered with Great Bay Community College in Rochester, New Hampshire on a program specializing in advanced composite manufacturing.
We have focused on these programs because BAE Systems has made a significant investment in our New Hampshire production capacity to serve the growing needs of the business, anticipating a need for employees with the skills these programs provide. A certificate from either of these programs is a significant competitive advantage for students seeking to fill these positions because the company has confidence that the candidates can make an impact due to their training. Along with lab training, students participate in factory tours and gain access to professionals at BAE Systems who mentor and guide their career paths. All students who complete either of these certificate programs are guaranteed an interview at BAE Systems, and we have had great success in hiring terrific people through these programs.
At the traditional 4-year college level, we partner with a number of universities to both influence curriculum and foster the relationships necessary for effective college recruiting. As we do our best to convince the nation’s top college graduates to work for BAE Systems, we focus on the ongoing training and development opportunities available to our employees. BAE Systems offers an exclusive three-year leadership development program for select employees to pursue a master’s degree while rotating through various disciplines within our Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Engineering and Quality organizations.
Additionally, our internal Electronic Systems University provides our employees with a wide array of training opportunities ranging from internationally recognized Green and Black Belt Lean/Six Sigma certificates to supply chain management to leadership training and everything in between, all related to high-technology electronics design and manufacturing.
All of this underpins BAE Systems’ approach to develop the workforce we need to provide some of the world’s most sophisticated electronic systems, which helps make the United States’ platforms the most advanced in the world. The talent we develop for the future will be crucial to the defense and technological advancement of the United States for decades to come as we fulfill our mission to protect those who protect us.
By Jeremy Tondreault, vice president, operations, electronic systems sector, BAE Systems.