Work to do for Future Technician Preparation ( Nine Fields of Technology)


Two interesting audio events occurred in my life this past month.  The first was a radio story about the only surviving American car manufacturer in an Ohio city that use to have all brands of American cars made in that city.  During the broadcast, the host explained that this manufacturing facility was still going strong but that there was a restructured pay and work assignment plan in place. 

The discussion about hourly pay rates adjusted to today's skilled labor marketplace was interesting but the part that really caught my ear was an interview with a new to the plant but an experienced electrician.  The interview proceeded with some discussion about how that electrician felt about the new job and pay scale. The ear catcher was when the radio show host ended the story with the comment that this electrician now spends most of his time "working on robots".  The second audio event of interest to me happened this month at different meetings that involved industry and business groups.  Several times during conversations with these groups, the idea that workers, including technicians, will be replaced by robots was expressed. 

So why are these interesting audio events?  I suggest that most, if not all, faculty involved with the preparation of tomorrow's technical workforce do not agree with those comments about robots replacing technicians.  Faculty preparing industrial maintenance, mechatronics, and troubleshooting technicians know that an electrician's future "job description" is going to include in-depth technical responsibility for robot operation.  However, these 2 events raise a question about what exactly will be the expected skills of our technical workers that are not currently included in education and training pathways?

The National Science Foundation is extremely interested in answers to this technician future of work education issue.   The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) program involves partnerships between academic institutions and industry to promote improvement in the education of technicians.  Fields of technology supported by the ATE program include, but are not limited to, advanced manufacturing technologies, agricultural and bio-technologies, energy and environmental technologies, engineering technologies, information technologies, micro- and nanotechnologies, security technologies, geospatial technologies, and applied research on technician education.  Improved and focused knowledge of technician focused future of work issues within and across these technologies will guide ATE project proposals in the coming years in efforts to support their regional industries as well as the NSF ATE mission.

Returning to our current focus, " Work to do for Future Technician Preparation", we realize that there is a lot of work ahead.  This “work to do”, starts with each of you.  What are the future of work issues you recognize that need to be blended into technician education?  How and where should we introduce these emerging and crosscutting technologies? To allow a progression of thought that permits blending and refinement of ideas and comments we will cycle through all nine NSF-ATE supported technologies starting next month with advanced manufacturing technologies.  So "back to work" and please send us what you are doing, as well as your thoughts and perceptions.