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Perspective: Reach out to disadvantaged students to fix skills gap

By John Hitch, for Industry Week

May 15, 2018

Recently, I wrote about how the Walt Disney Co. donated $1 million to the Boy and Girls Club of America to create STEM Centers of Innovation in Oakland, Calif., and 11 other metropolitan areas in need of some educational enhancement. Such philanthropy, though a relatively small gesture compared to the film’s box office gross, is a step in the right direction—and one manufacturers can learn from.

Many school districts invest in 3D printers and even CNC machines, a very positive development for the machining industry. And every time a district can drop even $20,000 on a used Haas CNC machine, for example, that could provide dozens of students a path to a very stable career. The worst outcome of a student not being able to find a job is turning to criminal activity to make ends meet. The average one-year cost of incarceration is around $32,000. I understand the tax money comes from different sources, but in this scenario, offering just one at-risk student a different path provides a 160% ROI.

But for far too long, many have been ill-equipped to glean even the basics of math and science, let alone advanced manufacturing, using outdated text books and PCs so old they unironically have Oregon Trail installed on them. From 2009 on, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), taken by 15-year-olds every three years, shows a gradual decline in math and science scores. It’s a statistically insignificant drop, under 4%, but I’d argue that if it’s not getting better year-over-year as technology improves and public scrutiny is higher, the education system overall is failing.

Now I think we can unanimously agree that the government won’t be solving this problem for you, and I hope you never expected it to. This is your problem to fix, American manufacturers, and these are your future workers to reach. You are being tested right now, and as an industry, deserve a failing grade, too.

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