Manufacturing Excellence in Florida (part 1)

Florida’s manufacturing future is bright if we can get all of the puzzle pieces to fit!  Perhaps the easiest part of the picture is the upgrade of manufacturing facilities to meet today's advanced manufacturing mission. Of course, "easy" is a relative term and this time the word reflects the component of manufacturing excellence that the manufactures actually have a "handle" on. They know the technologies that they want to insert into their manufacturing processes. They know the advantages and challenges that advanced manufacturing creates and they know why it is crucial to push their processes to new technologies and procedures. The "hard" part is reflected in the reality that the manufacturers alone cannot create the workforce that optimally complements the advanced technologies being inserted into the manufacturing environment. This reality plus the fact that the workforce talent pool they will draw from must have candidates that demonstrate a depth and breadth of knowledge and skills defined by the demands of various advanced manufacturing equipment technologies.   
FLATE is using NSF awarded Advanced Technological Education program funds to shift its core mission functions into FloridaMakes to address the challenges generated by the need to have a highly talented manufacturing workforce pool. At this point, four target mechanisms have been identified as key elements in creating this talent resource:

·      Work-based Learning
·      Internship & Apprenticeships
·      Skill Certification
·      Talent Pipeline Development.

It is also clear that emphasis on the first three, Work-based Learning, Internships & Apprenticeships, and Skill Certification, is not within the typical view of an education institution perspective. Instead, most institutions focus their talent pipeline development activities on four-year degree career paths.
Historically, manufacturing skills and knowledge education has been separated if not insulated from the academic programs found in today's high schools and colleges. Perhaps that approach was effective before this millennium but technology and its rapid integration into manufacturing now makes that approach inefficient if not inappropriate. The tendency to put "shop classes" off in their own world with completers destined for clearly defined tasks and jobs cannot be the modus operandi today.

 Perhaps, it is a good idea to remove "shop class" from our vocabulary because of the mistaken message burden it seems to bear. However, an expansion of skills, knowledge, and expectations from this "hands on" education process contributes a critical component to Florida's new manufacturing workforce. This component should not be isolated or insulated from "main stream" educational programs. Nor is it a component that can be effectively accomplished by traditional education programs.  Both have to alter their instructional pedagogy. That is to say both the "hands on" and "traditional" classroom lecture based faculty have to alter the art, science, and teaching practices presently resident within their comfort zones.

The driving force for this pedagogy alteration is the realization that an advanced manufacturing workforce requires knowledge and skills that support the development of extensive troubleshooting skills. The days of reading a manual on the job to fix a specific and clearly identified broken part are all but over. Technicians and advanced equipment operators are now faced with much more complex situations.  These commonly include lower than optimal production rates; finished parts or products that challenge quality control expectations; and process failures that are not directly connected to a single piece of 
equipment. Creating workers that can address these complicated manufacturing situations requires interaction among a variety of stakeholders that contribute to advanced manufacturing workforce development.
For Florida, four of these contributing stakeholders are easy to envision. Each (community and state colleges; CareerSource Florida, FloridaMakes, and the University of Florida Innovation Stations) already has a vested interest in building and strengthening Florida's manufacturing workforce pool. Each of these build from an initial high school workforce talent pool. Each has resident expertise that contributes to that task. Each has an organizational structure that fosters their expertise but cannot simultaneously develop extensive expertise in the other three stakeholders' space. Manufacturing workforce excellence will happen when all of these stakeholders effectively blend their expertise on the task at hand without altering their primary designated missions.    

FLATE FOCUS will continue with its Manufacturing Excellence in Florida theme as this new year matures. The aim is to elaborate on the components stakeholders have that can directly contribute to creating a world class manufacturing workforce in Florida. Part 2 of this series will report on an important first step: combining FLATE and FloridaMakes. This process will create a clear mechanism for maximizing the impact of our four target mechanisms. It will also pave the way to include Florida School Districts as significant contributing stakeholders. FLATE has been working with elementary, secondary, post secondary adult education, and school districts individually across the state for many years, but not as an organized stakeholder group. There are many individual examples, but one exciting effort was the development of an elementary school curriculum that is math and engineering focused and embedded in a school in Pinellas county. A summary of that effort is included in this edition of the FLATE FOCUS. Check it out!