Bill Loomis| Crain’s Custom Media

In the scramble for manufacturing companies to upgrade their operations, talent plays a key role.

Why does advanced manufacturing technology, such as digital manufacturing matter? And how it will impact job growth and jobs in the coming years?

To answer those questions, Bill Loomis of Crain’s Custom Media, sat down with Jon Riley, vice president for digital manufacturing at the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences in Ann Arbor.

Why Is advanced manufacturing technology so important today?

Riley: Going back 20, 30 or 40 years ago, people spent years training and apprenticing to learn a trade, to build knowledge on a process, to learn a craft. It was an artisan culture that involved years of trial and error. These people are retiring at a very fast rate and we need to capture and carry on their experience. Advanced technology offers a path for US manufacturers but we need qualified people to make it happen.

How are advanced manufacturing jobs different from traditional manufacturing jobs?

Riley: New jobs will need entirely different skills. No matter if its sales, product development, technical, or management new people will need to know how to leverage knowledge of the past. Hands-on experience may not be needed. They will be better paying jobs for that mid-level, certified technician. Finding good people has become so difficult, companies like Lockheed in Florida are targeting young people in high schools and community colleges and providing everything for them: education, hands on experience, and jobs: a complete career path.

What workforce programs do you see that address the challenges of job training for this kind of manufacturing?

Riley: Developing a curriculum for this field is hard. There are now only three universities in the U.S. that offer “Modeling and Simulation,” an important advanced manufacturing process. Manufacturers have such specific needs that they essentially have to train young people themselves to their processes which take time and are costly.

One of the prominent efforts underway today is President (Barack) Obama’s Digital Manufacturing and Design Institute (DMDI) started in February of 2014. It is a Chicago-Detroit partnership. While it is headquartered at University of Illinois, the Detroit branch will be at Lawrence Institute of Technology. It is funded through the Department of Defense at $140 million to form a partnership with public and private sectors to create jobs in advanced manufacturing technologies. It’s very exciting.

These opportunities seem great for young people. Will we see a rush of hiring in the near term?

Riley: Building programs and awareness is not good enough. Manufacturing is not a career path many young people consider when making important choices. When I was young, really a kid, NASA’s space program was going strong. It was inspiring to me. My dad bought me a telescope. I was determined to be a part of the space program and when I graduated from college I did that for some time. But that’s gone now. Right now there is nothing to inspire young people, nothing in engineering or manufacturing to capture their imagination. We need to change that. Today many parents turn kids away from manufacturing for good reasons: manufacturing — or I should say your father’s manufacturing — for the last 30 years moved overseas. This is different. It’s creative and dynamic. We need a paradigm shift – a complete change. We need to start this change now.

Share On