SMTA Attends Summit in Support of Industry Workforce Development


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SMTA members and staff were among the 50 carefully-selected invitees who participated in the Future Electronics Workforce (F.E.W.) Summit held at Michigan Technological University (MTU) on August 17, 2022. Co-sponsored by Calumet Electronics and Michigan Technological University, and supported by the US Department of Defense (DoD) Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program, the summit had the goal of generating and implementing specific actions for each of the major stakeholder groups present that could ease the potentially crippling shortage of replacement technical staff in defense-critical electronics manufacturing.

Paraphrasing keynote speaker Adele Ratcliff (Director, DoD IBAS) comments, one of the most vulnerable aspects of the DoD’s defense industrial base is recruitment/retention of the technical workforce. As an illustration, the Huntsville, AL region Mil/Aero defense industrial base projects one-half million open personnel requisitions over the next 3 years, with only a tiny fraction available through traditional sources. “We must change how we think and act in workforce development if we are to be successful in overcoming this critical national security issue,” said Ratcliff.

A key element of the summit, the “Future Strategies” session (led by Kaye Ortiz, supporting IBAS) generated many potential actions at all stakeholder levels. These were summarized by Ms. Ortiz as:

  1. More collaboration, especially in identifying exemplars, and finding ways to connect needs with solution providers and communicate those options
  2. Connect and communicate the value of the workforce at all levels and career opportunities, and connect and communicate individual workforce partners with the greater mission, rather than “just a job”
  3. Address new ways to provide the IMMEDIATE training need (while longer-term solutions develop.) One tool for this will be “deconstructing” the elements of the “black box” of traditional educational/training methods and approaches

To sustain the work begun at this summit, Ms. Ortiz will guide the formation of a Joint Working Group, formed in part by volunteers from the attendees at this summit.

Marc Carter, president of Aeromarc LLC, commented, “The Electronic Manufacturing Technical Education project (sponsored by IBAS, via Aeromarc LLC), one of the organizers of this summit, in partnership with SMTA, is grateful to all of those industry, DoD, government, and academic participants, especially those who are committing their efforts towards solutions through the Joint Working Group put forward at this event.”

Greg Vance, SMTA Board Member and Principal Engineer, Rockwell Automation, gave a brief presentation on SMTA’s strategic goals. He remarked, “Work force development is a key pillar of the new SMTA five-year strategic plan. In addition to our existing training and conferences; we envision SMTA can be a hub, leveraging our chapter network and industry contacts to help launch and lead collaboration on efforts to develop a qualified, inclusive and technically diverse workforce. This includes creating partnership programs with academia to bridge the gap between school and on-the-job-training, participate in industry efforts to identify, develop and disseminate tools and resources especially for young professionals.”

One such partnership model highlighted and discussed throughout the day is that between co-sponsoring organizations, MTU and Calumet Electronics. On behalf of the US DoD/IBAS, Adele Ratcliff presented an award to Chris Middlebrook, MTU Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering, for his commitment to training, education, and industry collaboration.

There are other regions in the country making strides in developing connections through Academia, Industry and Local Government similar to the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Executive Director of SMTA, Tanya Martin, concluded, “Events like the Future Electronics Workforce Summit magnify the importance and benefit of a collaborative approach to addressing these critical workforce issues.”

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