STEM funding sets the stage for advanced manufacturing careers

04/01/2012  |  Bart A. Aslin
STEM Education

New manufacturing thrives on and drives innovation, and in the US we have a gold mine of future innovators. Right now, they are two years old and their parents are reading bedtime stories while holding an iPad or a Kindle. By 2031, these children will be candidates for advanced manufacturing positions. Their ability to innovate will be predicated on their parents and teachers encouraging their creativity and imagination with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education; and their introduction to these technologies at an early age is raising the bar on how they learn.

Today, as STEM education takes center stage, with the imperative being job creation, the SME Education Foundation has accelerated its funding for innovative education in advanced manufacturing. Manufacturing as an industry is not dying — it is being transformed. Advancements in emerging technologies began to alter our social structure as little as ten years ago with the manufacturing sector moving from being low-tech and labor intensive to being technology-intensive with higher productivity and new approaches in management. This dynamic is changing how education is delivered and how students learn.

In 1945, America led the world in technological innovation. However, by 1979, American innovation was no longer soaring and annual increases in productivity had fallen behind most of the industrialized world. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) responded to this critical loss with a $1 million investment to create the SME Education Foundation and reversed the decline.

By 1996, our Manufacturing Education Plan took a three-pronged approach: youth programs, colleges and universities, and lifelong learning. The SME Education Foundation directed $1.7 in funding to the execution of this plan.

In 1997, the SME Education Foundation provided funding for STEPS (STEM Summer camp). The weeklong program later expanded to 16 states reaching 3,500 students.

Recognizing that the pipeline for students pursuing STEM was almost dry, the SME Education Foundation initiated funding of $5.2 million to address the transformation of manufacturing education, change public perception of manufacturing, and address the US shortage of manufacturing and technical talent. Our major focus became reaching students at an early age and directing funding to STEM-infused middle and high schools.

In 2006, the SME Education Foundation partnered with Project Lead The Way (PLTW) to re-write their STEPS curriculum, to reflect PLTW’s more rigorous STEM approach, and create the Gateway Academy. These students were then directed to PLTW’s Gateway to Technology (GTT), a pre-engineering program for middle-school students designed to increase the pipeline of students entering STEM coursework.

In 2008 and 2009, as student enrollment increased, the SME Education Foundation funded $815,000 to PLTW for the addition of Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) programs and/or upgrades of the CIM course at 140 PLTW high schools across the country and expanded the Gateway Academy to 300 middle schools.

In early 2011, we continued to support PLTW with $400,000 for the addition of 50 Gateway Academy schools in 19 states, and for CIM upgrades and VEX Robotic Design Systems. Another $75,000 provided VEX kits which allowed PLTW Core Training Instructors to train their CIM teachers.

The lack of jobs and lack of skilled workers continues to fuel a growing awareness of the need for STEM education. According to the Manufacturing Council, 2.7 million manufacturing employees will likely retire during the next ten years, yet only an estimated 750,000 young adults enrolled in STEM-focused educational programs in 2011 to fill the pipeline. That number is estimated to further plunge to 350,000 by 2025.

They further state that young people have misconceptions about manufacturing. The SME Education Foundation is addressing these misconceptions by exposing young people to the realities of the industry in today’s global community. Manufacturing and engineering are at the core of high-tech, innovative fields like medical technology, biosciences, semiconductors and alternative energy vital to the economy.

Work is already underway to expose our youth to careers in advanced manufacturing. Organizations are providing scholarships to qualified candidates and providing advanced manufacturing curriculum to middle and high schools. Project Lead The Way represents proven programs, and funding is attainable from organizations such as the SME Education Foundation.

In November 2011, the SME Education Foundation also developed and introduced PRIME (Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education), a community-based approach to manufacturing education. Selected schools are recognized for their exemplary manufacturing STEM-based curriculum and will become central to creating “manufacturing super centers” for manufacturing education. The schools are connected to local SME Chapters, local industry and partnering organizations. Students will be provided with summer internships, opportunities for job shadowing, scholarships, personal mentors and access to relevant online resources including, which promotes advanced manufacturing careers,, and, our award-winning website for young people.

This year’s PRIME exemplary schools and SME Chapters supporting them include: Hawthorne High School of Engineering and Manufacturing (SME Los Angeles Chapter), Wheeling High School (SME Chicagoland, Chapter #5); Summit Technology Academy (SME Chapter #57); Walker Career Center (SME Chapter #37); Fairmont High School (SME Dayton, Chapter #18); and Francis Tuttle Technology Center (SME Oklahoma Student Chapter S143).

New partnerships are also providing opportunities to inform the general public about how much our society depends on and benefits from this industry.

This year, we are continuing to sponsor a new website, “Manufacturing the Future,” a documentary about manufacturing and its future. The documentary underlining STEM education and technical college training includes interviews with people in technical positions in a variety of industries. The documentary is designed for classrooms and includes teacher guides written by manufacturers specific to segments. Teachers can use the video each day for a week, and then have a manufacturer come in and talk to their class.

The SME Education Foundation also worked with Richard Yeagley, writer, director, and producer of “The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work,” which celebrates the talents of tradesmen and the importance of STEM and hands-on learning. The documentary portrays the vocational lives of several tradesmen discussing the issues encompassing the trades in contemporary America. It is an exposition into the socioeconomic topics related to the modern blue-collar craftsman.

Our partnership with the Edge Factor, an HD series, takes an inside look at real people using extreme technology to create the world around us. Jeremy Bout, Edge Factor series producer, and a former manufacturing programmer, works with his team to bridge the gap between the visual media world and that of manufacturers in this highly-entertaining series.

Stemming from the production of the Edge Factor series will be a new student engagement competition called “Reality Redesigned,” as well as a series of classroom videos, “EDU Factor,” which will be used to highlight the specific technologies featured in the Edge Factor series. These videos will be distributed and shown in classrooms with the support of our relationships with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), Project Lead The Way (PLTW) and the National Center for Manufacturing Education (NCME).

Our workforce development efforts have become realities because of the willingness of business, industry, education, and like-minded non-profits and government to partner. A highly protective, competitive or vertical approach to workforce development no longer works. We highly recommend collaboration.

Bart A. Aslin is the Chief Executive Officer of the SME Education Foundation in Dearborn, MI. The SME Education Foundation ( is committed to inspiring, supporting and preparing the next generation of manufacturing engineers and technologists for the advancement of manufacturing education. Also visit for information on advanced manufacturing and, our award-winning website for young people.
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