Advanced manufacturing: A pathway for sustainable fulfilling careers

Young man working on an industrial manufacturing machine

If you found your way to this blog, you probably believe strongly in Pearson’s goal of assisting students in improving their lives through learning. And if you’ve followed the debate over how well our current educational system prepares students to enter the workforce and sustain fulfilling careers, you might wonder exactly what we can do to achieve this goal. One worthwhile pathway is career and technical education, also known as CTE.

Association for Career and Technical Education websiteCTE teaches students technical, academic and employability skills and can prepare them to enter careers in engineering, agriculture, hospitality, and many more fields. As the executive director for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the nation’s largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for careers, I am committed to increasing public awareness of and appreciation for career and technical education programs. This post on advanced manufacturing is the first in a series about specific CTE sectors that deserve attention because of the engaging career pathways and employment opportunities that they provide.

Advanced manufacturing uses cutting-edge technology and processes to make products that are high tech, high quality and affordable. Manufacturing accounted for $1.87 trillion as an industry in 2012, or almost 12 percent of the U.S.’s GDP. About one in six private-sector jobs involve manufacturing, and certain specific occupations, such as engineers, machinists, machine operators, and those related to computer manufacturing will see an especially large growth in demand for their services in the next few years. We need to work to ensure that we are preparing our students for the opportunities that will exist in this field, especially as it increasingly requires more technical knowledge. By 2018, 42 percent of manufacturing jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education, and the amount of unfilled jobs in the field is projected to grow to two million, mainly because many current employees plan to retire. Sixty-seven percent of employers are already reporting a moderate to severe shortage of skilled applicants (ACTE, Sector Sheet: Advanced Manufacturing, 2014).

student working with electrical equipmentFortunately, there are steps to take to ensure that students who may be interested in advanced manufacturing careers have the opportunity to pursue their goals. Career and technical education courses in computer-integrated manufacturing, robotics, machining, welding and logistics are beneficial for secondary and postsecondary students. Apprenticeships, mentorships and internships in the field are also vital for students seeking to gain on-the-job experience. Stackable credentials, which allow students to earn credentials that serve as qualifications themselves and prepare them for further education, are also valuable.

Prince George’s Community College (Maryland) provides an example of an institution that is using innovation to prepare students for careers in advanced manufacturing. The college, which ACTE visited for our first microdocumentary, “Dimensions: 3D Printing and the Arts” encourages students who are enrolled in animation and other art classes to learn how to build digital 3D models and use 3D printers, both of which are tools commonly used in advanced manufacturing. Professors have commented on how these courses combine creative problem solving with math and engineering and allow students to learn skills that are applicable to everything from architecture to civil engineering to automotive and aerospace design. Students appreciate how this program has exposed them to fields they had not previously considered and prepared them for college and careers.

Advanced manufacturing is a rapidly growing career field that has the potential to provide many young people with stable, exciting employment. However, these jobs will be inaccessible to students unless they learn the skills that employers require. ACTE’s Advanced Manufacturing Microdoc  and Sector Sheet, and the rest of our Microdocs and Sector Sheets, can be used as advocacy tools by those who wish to spread the message. Together, we can ensure that these career and technical education fields are recognized as valuable by policymakers, the education community, and the nation.


About the Author
LeAnn Wilson

LeAnn Wilson

LeAnn Wilson has served as the executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) since her appointment in 2013, after having served as ACTE’s chief financial officer since 2005. Through her leadership role, Wilson has gained a deep appreciation for the work that America’s career and technical education (CTE) professionals do every day to equip their students with the skills they will need to keep our country strong, and she has strived to raise awareness of CTE among policymakers and the public. She has demonstrated exemplary leadership during her time with ACTE, including the development of sound institutional financial strategies to ensure long-term organizational stability and growth. Wilson has served in a variety of financial positions during her career, including 16 years in nonprofit association environments. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Maryland, College Park, and currently resides in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband, Terry, and two daughters, Kelly and Samantha.