Future Technician Preparation ( advanced manufacturing technologies)





Returning to " Work to do for Future Technician Preparation theme", September FLATE Focus, the National Science Foundation is extremely interested in what technician education should "look-like" because new and near future advancements in science, engineering, and technology are changing American industry.   The National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF-ATE) program involves partnerships between academic institutions and industry to promote and execute improvement in the education of technicians.  The ATE program's focus includes, but is 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.

 An education structure that assures the appropriate knowledge and skills of technicians within these sectors is a doubled edged entity.  On one edge, the programs must transfer knowledge and skills to students so that, upon graduation, they can enter the workforce and immediately contribute to the industries technical needs.  On the other edge, industry needs are intensifying if not shifting because science, technology, and engineering are reshaping the way that industry works.  That shift has to include new or more intense knowledge and skills technicians must bring to the work place.  That new workplace skill set has many facets.  One example with one of those facets is outlined below.   However, it is initially important to appreciate that particularly in manufacturing operations new technology imposed on existing industry practices may not be primarily inserted to improve productivity.  Often new process technologies are fundamentally essential to produce a new product that's previous nonexistence initially removes any direct improvement in productivity discussion.  In that scenario the discussion is centered on the new knowledge and skills existing and future technicians need to support the implementation and operation of that new technology.  This example reflects that situation.

When FLATE began, 2004, working with the Florida Department of Education to have the A.S. Degree programs reflect manufacturing in the 21st century, A.S. Degree electronics programs around Florida were preparing technicians to work in industry at the component level.  This skill set is important but current degree programs also include skills and knowledge related to subsystem and system performance.  Today electronics technician education will have to evolve again.

Today's technician is focused on trouble shooting and quality issues for manufactured devices that utilize single frequency technology such as alternating current power delivery or digital, on-off, signals. However, advanced electronics systems are moving to the Florida manufacturer’s production arena.  This also means the test of these new multi-frequency devices such as cell phones, advanced radar, communications, crystal oscillators, filters, smart speakers, cordless headphones, and other wearable technologies will become an expected quality control activity.  Florida manufacturers have already indicated that technicians needed to service this sector are not available. 
Numerous companies in Florida manufacture high multi-frequency electronic sub-systems and systems that support the above commercial applications along with many military systems.  Their products operate in the frequency range of a few tenths to many Gigahertz.  Additional products that utilize this frequency range include global positioning, traditional and 5G Wi-Fi, microwave ovens, radar and ultra-high frequency satellite interactive communications systems.  A search of A.S. programs on a national basis returned only one or two scattered courses that addressed any of the issues facing technicians working in these multi-frequency manufacturing sectors.

 This is a technician Future of Work issue that is impeding manufacturers right now.  The path to lowering this electronics skills gap generator is clear.  The knowledge technicians will need is resident in the upper division electrical engineering courses in four-year B.S. engineering colleges.  The challenge is which subset of that body of knowledge has to be merged into electronics technician education and what skills have to be emphasized to assure that new technicians will meet manufacturers needs.  Although  the :M" was not included in the STE (science, technology, and engineering) industry reshaping  statement above, trouble shooting and quality control of high multiple frequency systems and their related subsystems will most likely translate to additional math skills in the technician's took kit.     

As always, the work start with you.  The ATE community will respond to this technician Future of Work challenge but the more specifics about the skills subset that is actually required is found within this manufacturing arena is essential.   If you work in this sector, what are the skills  you recognize that need to be blended into electronics technician education.  The National Science Foundation is supporting a major effort right now to address future technician education issues.  Your input is important and timely.  Please share your thoughts, perceptions, and experience with us, gilbert@usf.edu.  We will listen and respond.