Affairs of U.S. Pedagogy for Future Workers

March 28, 2006

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The argument stands that the next-generation workforce must be better prepared. See what the government is doing for job training and education. Note the role of apprenticeships in our workforce. And examine a movement that says four years' of education is insufficient for engineers to practice professionally.

Millions of baby boomers are about to begin retiring, and many experts believe America will begin to suffer a shortage of skilled workers — particularly engineers, manufacturers and scientists — within the next few years. Meanwhile, steadily diminishing numbers of college students are choosing careers in science and engineering.

Indeed, the argument stands that a lack of engineers and skilled workers is a threat to United States industry.

So what is the current state of higher education, training and apprenticeships in the U.S.?

Engineering Education Interestingly, while almost all practicing professional engineers have been licensed on the basis of a four-year degree, noted an article in the National Association of Professional Engineers' (NSPE) January/February 2006 issue of PE magazine (authoriz. req'd), now "a movement is afoot that says four years is no longer enough." Increasingly, engineering organizations and practitioners are saying that the "body of knowledge" necessary to practice engineering is beyond the traditional four-year bachelor's degree program.

Further, says the professional engineering publication, "momentum is building behind an effort that would require additional education beyond the bachelor's degree" in order to become a professional engineer. Over the last four years, the push for additional education requirements has intensified.

Advocates for increasing the education requirements for engineers point out that the number of credit hours to earn an engineering degree has declined from 150 hours to 120-129 hours. Since the engineering curriculums of the 1920s, the number of credits in math and science has declined, as has the number of credits for engineering topics — yet the number of credits for general education has increased. Such changes have occurred at a time when technical specialization and complexity have increased.

The movement toward requiring additional education beyond a bachelor's degree to practice at the professional level took a jump forward at the annual meeting of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) last August, when state licensing boards narrowly approved a motion to amend the NCEES Model Law to require 30 additional hours of education for licensure.

According to PE magazine:

As the next step, an NCEES committee will draft language for amending the Model Law and will make its recommendations to the council this year. According to the proposed language, the increased education requirements would be implemented no sooner than 2010. However, after the Model Law changes, it is uncertain how quickly state licensing boards will move to enact the changes in state laws and regulations. Really, it depends on how many states embrace the idea.

Needless to say, the motion generated significant debate.

(Also, see our Tips & Schools for Future Engineers article for more.)

Government Effort The U.S. government has laid out a few approaches of note.

The "High Growth Job Training Initiative" is a collaborative effort to "help team up people with the jobs that are needed, to make sure that the changes in our economy don't leave people behind," President George W. Bush remarked to operating engineers in Ohio on Labor Day 2003. Since 2002, the Department of Labor (DOL) has directed more than $92 million to 47 public-private partnerships in which companies in growing industries work with community colleges and others to ensure that workers get the skills they need to compete in emerging fields like biotechnology and high-tech manufacturing, the DOL claims.

Bush's "Jobs for the 21st Century" initiative is a comprehensive plan to "better prepare workers for jobs in the new millennium by strengthening post-secondary education and job training and improving high school education." This initiative was created both for improving high school education and for strengthening access to post-secondary education and job training.

More recently, Senators John Ensign of Nevada and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut introduced the National Innovation Act of 2005, which, if it becomes law, among other things will launch federal efforts to recruit 10,000 new science and math teachers, luring them with scholarships and bonuses. It also will provide extra training and resources for 250,000 current math and science teachers.

"Perhaps this will lead to the kind of interactive teaching that has long been hailed as the best method of reaching science-sullen teens," recently commented Scientific American editor David Biello on the SCIAM blog. "I certainly responded better to the old vinegar and baking soda volcano than my high school physics teacher's clumsy attempts to make science relevant through [uninteresting and ineffective] problem-solving exercises."

Finally, Bush called for an "American Competitiveness Initiative" at the end of January 2006. This plan would not only double research in physical sciences in the next decade and make permanent current tax breaks for R&D -- it would train 70,000 teachers to lead high school AP math and science classes and hire 30,000 scientists and engineers to work as teachers. The doubling of funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science could enable more professors to chase knowledge rather than funding.

Apprenticeship Programs Apprenticeship combines on-the-job training and related instruction in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. Apprenticeship programs can be sponsored by individual employers, joint employer and labor groups, and/or employer associations.

According to the U.S. DOL Employment and Training Administration (ETS) in December 2000, more than 440,000 Americans become apprentices every year, receiving training through approximately 37,000 apprenticeship programs.

Yet Advanced Technology Services, Inc. President & COO Jeffrey Owens, in an APICS e-NEWS article last October, noted that one of four primary factors to blame for the soon-to-be-seen gaping hole in the manufacturing workforce can be accredited to the elimination of apprenticeship programs. (The other factors to blame, according to Owens, are as follows: 1. mistaken views of trade and vocational schools, 2. a chilling economy and 3. the overall public image of plant work.)

Says the U.S. ETS:

Program sponsors in the United States currently have links with more than a quarter million employers and numerous educational institutions. Apprentices, who must be at least 16 years old, complete one to six years of paid, supervised, work-based training and technical instruction that allows them to learn and perform at the highest skill levels in their professions. They receive an Apprenticeship Completion Certificate that is a recognized credential in their occupation of choice and many obtain credit from participating community colleges toward an Associate Degree.

After all, it was the apprenticeship and in-house schooling programs of the late industrial revolution that led the way before college programs even existed.

And the Survey Says… A study called "2005 Skills Gap Report," conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Deloitte Consulting LLP and released in December, suggests (more like urges) the following:

  • Educators to emphasize science, math and technology-related programs in K-16 curricula; and invest more in teachers' math- and science-focused education, and ensure that programs regarding career opportunities and requirements for graduation are geared for 21st century employment;

  • State education standards to include career education as measurable criteria for K-12 success;

  • Government to partner with business to improve the K-12 and community college system to develop a high-performance workforce; and

  • Employers to invest at least three percent of payroll whenever possible in training for current employees.

So, as millions of baby boomers soon begin to retire, their worker replacements must attain the proper knowledge and skill. If for no other reason, younger generations should be taught basic scientific principles so they can make informed decisions on the future of the country — and indeed, the world. They are the generations who must face the consequences of ill-informed decisions. Both training of the forthcoming workforce and education of the youth are imperative.

References & Sources

The Education of a Professional Engineer (authoriz. req'd) by David Siegel, National Association of Professional Engineers PE magazine, January/February 2006

The President's High Growth Job Training Initiative U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration

Fact Sheet: Job Training for the 21st Century Economy White House Office of the Press Secretary, August 10, 2004

Ensign, Lieberman Introduce Major Bipartisan Innovation Legislation press release, Dec. 15, 2005

Confessions of a Teenage Science Illiterate by David Biello Scientific American blog, Jan. 12, 2006

Apprenticeship Fact Sheet U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Manufacturers: Baby Boomer Retirement To Cost Big Bucks by Mary H. King APICS e-News, Oct. 4, 2005

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