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STEM Education and The Evolving Manufacturing Workforce

There are so many changes going on within the workforce right now. These includes­ ongoing ripples of work-from-home, hybrid work, labor shortages and younger generations entering the workforce in larger numbers than ever before.

In short, there are big things happening across many industries, including manufacturing. Skills gaps also continue to change manufacturing and increasing talk of the implementation and implications of artificial intelligence are placing these concerns in a different light.

But one of the most interesting evolutions is the generational changes in the workforce. The pandemic saw more Baby Boomers retire at the same time Gen Z was joining the workforce. We now have more generations working together than ever before and that’s not always easy to wrangle or for an organization to successfully meet everyone’s needs.

Different Outlooks

While there’s often little benefit from generalizing, it’s probably safe to say that younger generations will have a different outlook on what they believe should be emphasized in the workforce. We’re already seeing signs of this. There has been more emphasis placed on sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion; and on building/maintaining good mental health in the workforce. Among these priorities is an increased emphasis on making a difference and having a purpose at work.

Companies are also looking to increase diversity within their organizations. This can be seen in the push to welcome more women to the field of manufacturing. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows only 30% of the 12.1 million people who currently work in manufacturing are women. While these numbers are higher than they were a decade ago, the industry is still under-represented overall. There is also under-representation in manufacturing among individuals of color.

STEM Education

One reason for this can be traced back to early education. Building interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) must begin early. As soon as elementary school, children begin to categorize themselves as being “good” or “bad” at math and science. This is why many STEM advocates believe STEM education and the exploration of science, technology, engineering and math and its potential use needs to begin before a child makes this decision. After that, it becomes harder to convince someone they are “good” at math and science.

Creating more emphasis on STEM at an earlier age has important implications for employment, too. A stat from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from September 2022 projected a 10.8% employment change from 2021-2031 in STEM occupations. Conversely, the percentage employment change during the same period for non-STEM occupations is less than 5% growth.

This shows the potential of a powerful future for STEM-related industries particularly as the workforce continues to evolve. But it will likely be up to the manufacturing industry to start the conversation and begin cultivating these relationships at a much earlier age than previously thought.

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