The need for STEM technicians in manufacturing fields continues to be a national concern. It is also a specific workforce concern for the upper Mississippi river basin, a rural area. Studies estimate that, due to a lack of skilled employment-ready workers, more than half of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs created in the US between 2015 and 2025 will go unfilled. In rural areas in Minnesota, manufacturing jobs account for more than 15% of the total workforce. However, employers in this area report that at least 66% of current vacant positions in manufacturing fields are already difficult to fill. This project seeks to increase employment opportunities in advanced manufacturing across the Upper Mississippi region of rural Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. To this end, the project aims to meet local manufacturing workforce needs by providing an educational pathway that starts in high school, leads to a vocational engineering certificate, and extends to an engineering BS degree. A key goal of the project is to build partnerships between employers, high schools, local universities, and regional technical colleges to provide no-cost college instruction for participating high school students. These high school graduates will be able to pursue immediate employment, or to directly transfer into a technical college or university program. This model may provide a replicable approach that can be applied or adapted across disciplines to fit diverse economies across the nation.
The overall project goal is to establish a sustainable and replicable model that will: 1) increase the STEM pipeline to meet needs of regional manufacturers; 2) bridge the gap between secondary and post-secondary institutions of higher education; and 3) increase inclusion of women, Native Americans, and other groups that are underrepresented in advanced manufacturing. To achieve these goals and outcomes, the project will develop a hub-node structure, with the project serving as hub for nodes at high schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. In this way, each project can achieve the goals within relevant state/local laws and the local context. Specific project objectives include: validating curricula with industry partners at each high school site; equipping high schools for the planned courses in 3-D design, 3-D printing, quality measurement, and manual and computerized machine processes; expanding awareness of career opportunities in advanced manufacturing, including the awareness of students from groups that are underrepresented in this sector, such as women and Native Americans. College faculty, high school teachers, and industrial professionals will develop and implement the curricula through joint professional development, integration of working professionals into the classroom, and structured internships for students. This project also proposes to focus specifically on the rural context as it seeks to strengthen links between K-12 and post-secondary education and increase the number of students matriculating to post-secondary pathways related to advanced manufacturing. This project is funded by the Advanced Technological Education program that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation's economy.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.