Interview: Roger Collins shares his views on the American manufacturing sector

by Fleming. Team

Read the interview with Siemens' Technical Training Specialist and Apprenticeship Siemens Program Head - Roger Collins.

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In your opinion, how can the image of manufacturing sector be changed?

I feel that the image of manufacturing in this country needs a facelift. The first and most simple way is to start referring to it as “advanced manufacturing”. Furthermore, we as manufacturers have to take an active role in inviting the community as a whole (and schools, school administrators, and students in particular) to come out and visit advanced manufacturing facilities. This initiative will give manufacturers the opportunity to showcase the safe, clean, and productive environments that advanced manufacturing entails.”

How do you think the outcomes of STEM education can be improved?

In my opinion we need to educate the educators. There is an initiative in Charlotte NC called STEMersion. STEMersion is a very unique, two week experience for middle and high school Math, Science, and Career and Technical Education teachers. STEMersion gives these teachers a first-hand look into why so many careers require math and science skills. Teachers and career counselors visit as many as 18 companies over a two week period. During their visits to these companies, teachers learn about the inner workings of a business and how important math and science skills are to their employees. The teachers interact with employees while completing hands-on projects and tasks and are encouraged to explain how important it is to excel in higher level math and science courses. Corporate partners expose teachers to the workplace environment and the practical use of formulas and theoretical concepts that they teach in the classroom. This opportunity was created in the hopes that the participating teachers will take this real-world experience back to their students and classrooms. It is designed to help teachers help their students to relate real world careers to the course material they see in their classrooms every day and to encourage students to seek career pathways into STEM related fields. This initiative has expanded to areas outside of Charlotte and grown to include Community College teachers as well.”

In the manufacturing sector, how can recruiting be redesigned?

We must change the image of manufacturing in this country to advanced manufacturing. The general population still has the outdated view that manufacturing is dirty, dark and dangerous. In fact, In a recent poll by the Foundation of Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, the vast majority of people agreed that manufacturing is the basis for success of our country’s economy. Conversely, in that same group, only 37% of those polled would recommend a career in manufacturing to their children who are largely uninterested anyway. Generation “Y” respondents listed manufacturing as their last choice for a career. Furthermore, 61% of those polled described manufacturing as, and I quote “a dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill from its workers and offers minimal opportunity for personal growth or career advancement.” This is probably the least accurate description of modern advanced manufacturing that I have heard. The fact is that in order to compete globally American advanced manufacturing has to be better and more innovative than the rest of the world. Recruiters must convey that half of all scientists and engineers in this country are in manufacturing leading us to conclude that advanced manufacturing is driving innovation. We must engage the public that there are nearly one million advanced manufacturing careers that are unfilled and that the average manufacturer earns $77,500 per year including benefits.”

What do you think are the key drivers of manufacturing competitiveness?

Innovation and Education…….as I stated earlier half of all scientists and engineers are in manufacturing. It is interesting to note that according to The National Academies Press ( the United States ranks 27th among developed nations in the number of college students who acquire a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering. Furthermore, the United States has more college graduates in visual arts and performing arts than engineering. In order for America to be competitive we must be innovative and to support innovation we must re-ignite interest in STEM related education. Mr. Jeff Immelt, CEO, General Electric Co. said it best when he said “We had more sports-exercise majors graduate than electrical engineering graduates last year. If you want to become the massage capital of the world, you’re well on your way.” I am astonished by this knowing that according to USA Today Money the top earning college majors for 2015 were 1) Engineering, 2) Computer Science, and 3) Math and Sciences. Are our young people lazy and not interested in the earning potential of a career in manufacturing? Are the STEM related college majors too hard? I don’t know ……. but I do know that for America to be competitive globally, STEM curriculum and career and technical education must be re-introduced in our schools and it is imperative that we utilize whatever initiatives we can to work toward a resurging interest STEM related careers.”

What role do apprenticeship programs play in the manufacturing sector and how do you think they can they be taken to the next level?

In my opinion modern apprenticeships are vital to the future success of advanced manufacturing in America. Modern apprenticeships afford the apprentice the opportunity to obtain a college degree and a Journeyman’s certification in growing number of STEM related manufacturing fields. It is important to note that according to the Manufacturing Institute, American manufacturing is the eighth largest economy in the world. We are currently experiencing a serious shortage of talent in manufacturing due to the negative image of manufacturing and the lack of STEM talent in high schools and colleges. If we want to keep our place on the manufacturing world stage we must create a pipeline of highly educated and qualified manufacturers and I feel apprenticeships are the clear leader in this initiative. Apprenticeships give an individual the employable skills necessary to thrive in the industrial environment. While serving their apprenticeship, apprentices learn not just how to manufacture their employer’s products, but the procedures and policies that a company requires for employment. Apprentices have the opportunity to utilize company funds to continue their education above and beyond the degree they have already earned giving their employer a much more desirable candidate for employment at a higher level within the company. Manufacturers must view apprenticeships as an investment and not a cost and actively embrace apprenticeships as the pipeline from which future employees of all levels will emerge.”

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