Developing the next-generation workforce

How to develop the next-generation workforce?

My wife and I have three boys. The youngest is 17, a junior in high school and starting to think more seriously about his life after high school. Like a lot of kids his age, he has a variety of interests and skills, but no clear sense yet of how he might apply these in college or career. And, like a lot of kids his age, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about what it means to be an engineer, sales person, sous chef, welder, electrician, attorney — or any other job. Further, the odds are pretty good that the job does not yet exist that my youngest son is likely to turn into a career.

So, how do my wife and I help guide him as he begins to assess his post-high school options? Like a lot of parents, we want our kids to find meaningful work in which they can apply their skills and interests and feel a sustainable sense of satisfaction. We want them to have the intellectual and emotional tools necessary to adapt to a fast-changing work world. We want to empower them with the desire and energy to pursue professional opportunities as they present themselves. We want them to earn a living wage.

Because he’s my son, and because — like a lot of you — my work spills over into my family life, my youngest is keenly aware
 of composite materials and the composites industry. He knows how composites are being applied in aerospace, automotive,
 wind energy and many other end-markets. He understands that there is tension between legacy materials and composites as the latter displaces the former. He knows that as a relatively small but expanding manufacturing community, the world of composites fabrication is feeling some of the growing pains that come with the application of advanced materials.

My advice, which my son at least seems to be listening to: Pursue a degree in business, but sprinkle in coursework on supply-chain management, manufacturing management and technical materials. Then, pursue work on the business-development side of 
the composites industry, helping customers understand what composites are and how they can be applied. There is, I argue, great need for such skills — among many — in this industry.

We’ll see, over the next few years, just what path my son chooses. But regardless of his choices, the truth remains that many of us are closely aligned with two populations that could be 
of great help to each other: Young people in need of career options and guidance, and a composites industry in need of new talent. Connecting the two will be of paramount importance to the future of composites and to the future for many of our kids.

This, of course, is not new news. Baby Boomers are in the midst
 of a well-publicized and very long retirement process, taking with them decades of knowledge and experience that will be difficult to replace. Many of you likely are seeing this happen in your own workplace, or see it coming. The question is, how do we respond?

The short answer is that the response is already underway. From Seattle to Salt Lake City to Toulouse, teachers, professors, community colleges and manufacturers are working very hard — often together — to help train students, like my son, for work in the composites world. They’re reaching out to college-age kids, high school-age kids and adults, helping them understand what the opportunities are, and then helping them prepare to take advantage of those opportunities.

CW will, in 2017, take a closer look at how the composites industry is tackling workforce development, and we will help you understand how these efforts can help you and your business put new talent into your facility. And, perhaps most importantly, we hope to stimulate thought and discussion about what each of us can do to help guide and mentor the students around us, to help them see, appreciate and pursue the opportunities composites offer.

As we work on this story, I encourage you to contact me directly if you or your company is involved in workforce development. What is your goal? What is your strategy? How have you deployed resources? Who are you working with? How successful have you been? What lessons have you learned?

You can reach me at jeff@compositesworld.com. I hope to hear from you.