Is Manufacturing Pennsylvania’s ‘Pathway to Prosperity’?

“Put kids in an environment that they are engaged and they will succeed and stay in school and graduate.”

On December 18, 2012, CCAC hosted the Advanced Manufacturing/Mechatronics Conference at the Regional Learning Center in Cranberry.

Much of the interest revolved around one of the guest speakers, Bill Symonds, who is making his Harvard study “Pathways to Prosperity” an educational  "buzz word" nationally.  

Additional speakers included Dan Fogarty, from Schroeder Industries, John DeVere, from Education & Training Solutions, LLC, and Keith Campbell from Industrial Maintenance Training Center of Pennsylvania.


I have a basic understanding of manufacturing but what is mechatronics?

Mechatronics is a new and exciting engineering field that integrates mechanical and electronic components with hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics and computer controls in the manufacture of industrial products and processes,” according to the conference host, Community College of Allegheny County, which provides training in Mechatronics, 

To some, mechatronics is considered the unified and holistic approach to each of the engineering disciplines as explained in this YouTube video: http://youtu.be/xenSAnXMIA8.

 “Mechatronics solutions require the use of integrated teams of personnel working towards a common goal.” (http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/industries/mechatronics-informatics-and-control/about-the-group/mechatronics-forum/what-is-mechatronics)


So why are manufacturing and mechatronics so important to Pennsylvania and to the United States? 

According to the presentation made by Dan Fogarty, Human Resources Manager of Schroeder Industries, LLC, manufacturing is Pennsylvania’s largest economic sector with over $75 billion in annual output, and 14% of the state gross product. 

The productivity per worker in manufacturing is $27,000 more output per employee than any other sector, more than 60% of the innovation patents comes from the manufacturing sector, and nearly one out of every four technology jobs is in the manufacturing sector.

With the continued improvements in technology, which demands higher skill requirements, and with Pennsylvania’s aging workforce, a critical human resource shortage is developing. 

There is not enough talent in the pipeline to fill available positions. 

According to Mr. Fogarty, by 2020 there will be 4,500 projected openings for industrial maintenance in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  These jobs include Mechatronics Technicians, Industrial Mechanics, Industrial Electricians, Robotics Technicians, Automation Technician and many others related to the field of Industrial Maintenance.

The regional entry-level salary (2009) is $29,160, with the average salary being $43,137.  Combine this with the very good possibility of consistent work, and that creates a very promising future for Pennsylvania’s up-and-coming workforce.


Why are students not considering manufacturing and mechatronics as occupations?

A plausible solution to these questions was provided by guest speaker Bill Symonds, who is the director of the Pathways to Prosperity Project, which is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was launched in 2008.

Within his presentation of the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Mr. Symonds raised two key questions:

What is wrong with our current approach in schools? And, what do we need to do in order for our kids to dramatically increase their success?

Mr. Symonds continued that the increased interest in these key questions is because the record of school reform is so disappointing, causing the American Dream to be at risk. 

 There is record unemployment/underemployment for graduates with soaring student debt and the median income per household has decreased to 1990’s level.

According to Mr. Symonds, the key role of education in America is losing its race globally. Forbes magazine reports that the “United States spends more on K-12 public education than many other developed countries, yet U.S. students remain poorly prepared to compete with global peers; more than 25% of US students fail to graduate high school in four years; … in a global economy where language competency is critical, eight in 10 Americans only speak English; according to a recent report by the not-for-profit-organization ACT, only 22% of high school students met “college ready” standards in all core subjects; major employers cannot find qualified American applicants to fill job openings, and 75% of  U.S. citizens ages 17-24 cannot pass military exams because they are out of shape, have criminal records or lack critical skills needed for modern warfare. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesmarshallcrotty/2012/03/26/7-signs-that-americas-educational-decline-is-jeopardizing-its-national-security/)


Mr. Symonds is concerned:

“Would our next generation be called ‘A Wasted Generation’”?

In the Pathways to Prosperity report, the next trends indicate that by 2018 Pennsylvania is expected to have 6.4 million jobs, 56% of these jobs will require post-secondary education, 29% will require a four-year degree or higher and 27% will require an associates degree or some college. 

The statistics reveal that it will be critical to have a high school degree.

Parents and students feel that the only way to success is through a four-year college degree, but according to Mr. Symonds, this thinking is out of step with the labor market demand. 

“We are still the most productive manufacturing country in the world," he points out. "We will be replacing our baby boomers, that is where the jobs will be coming from.” 

His thoughts that “college for all” should expand to “post high school credentials for all” through community college/technical college, apprenticeships, military/community service and four year college.  Mr. Symonds explains:


“Put kids in an environment that they are engaged and they will succeed and stay in school and graduate.”

The three core elements of the Pathways to Prosperity system include: “Multiple pathways for students which would elevate career education to world class levels, provide high quality career counseling and improve opportunities toward work-based learning; expand the role for employers to include career guidance, designing programs of study in a work-based environment; and a new social compact with young people.”

Pennsylvania’s post-secondary education, community colleges, certifications, vocational technical schools, high schools as well as the training facilities such as Education & Training Solutions, LLC, and Industrial Maintenance Training Center of Pennsylvania, are all readily available to provide the education for the manufacturing and mechatronics trends Mr. Dogarty and Mr. Symonds reference for Pennsylvania. 

Companies, educators and communities will have to introduce non-traditional approaches to addressing this critical need in Pennsylvania’s workforce in order to attract the interest of students and educated workers as Mr. Symonds recommends.

Starting in high school and continuing into post-secondary education, companies need to open their doors with internships and apprenticeships in order to introduce students to opportunities available in the manufacturing/mechatronics fields and educators need to provide companies the opportunity to promote work based learning. 

Communities need to market local companies through local promotions and create opportunities for company involvement in community events.  This collaborative effort could be a beginning of the “Pathway of Prosperity” for Pennsylvania’s next generation who just need a little direction and guidance toward the new talent pipeline.


The writer, Aafke Loney, is the president of Business and Education Connected,   www.business-education-connected.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Roger February 13, 2013 at 07:32 PM
This is interesting material. I like what was written here, and understand how these disciplines need to be melded together. Some of this is happening already, but outside the worker education and preparation phase. I was surprised not to see STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) mentioned within the local school programs. However, I am pleased to see an interest in making more choices available in secondary education. Lack of flexibility and unable to "turn the ship" easily seems to constrain our students into paths that aren't best for them. I'm also afraid that our parents aren't as deeply involved as necessary. Too many are agreeable to the "sausage" approach, without very much interest or understanding of the outcomes. The statistics regarding "college ready" are startling, and should be cause for alarm. Apparently, students, when left to their own choices, opt for elective courses that do not advance their case. And, school administrators choose to make available these courses. The lack of preparation and concern for piquing interest in young students have taken to develop programs outside the school framework. Kudos to them! They have decided not to wait for school officials to offer important programs. At the college level, far too many students that are in non-professional programs, choose study majors that are dead end after graduation. Some state governors have started a movement to these end state-funded programs.
Aafke Loney February 13, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your interest in the STEM programs at the local level. The Pine-Richland School District has been very active in providing a strong STEM curriculum through the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) high school expansion, STEM education curriculum collaboration with the Carnegie Science Center, and Project Lead the Way, as well as initiating a Pine-Richland STEAM Committee as part of the Pine Richland Strategic Plan. The Fox Chapel School District also offers a 4 week STEMM Academy: http://www.edline.net/pages/FCAHS/Groups/STEMM for students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades in July and August. The next step for business, education and students is to collaborate and develop strong job shadowing and internship programs for high schools. Students who are unsure of their career choice would benefit through these job shadowing and internship experiences as this would provide valuable work linked experience and insight to different educational pathways.
Roger February 19, 2013 at 06:49 PM
In today's edition of USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/18/oversupply-elementary-education/1917569/ This article includes much distressing information. For example, in Illinois, there are ten college students in elementary education programs, for every job opening. Yes, 10:1 -- number of college students being educated is ten times the need of elementary education teachers. What does this say about preparing the workforce? The other distressing information was the shortage of teachers in very core subjects, such as math, science and special ed. With this revelation, we should not be surprised that the workforce is desperate for those who would fit into mechatronics field. This harkens back to STEM programs, and their importance in preparing the new workforce. So, why are there so many more college students prepping for elementary education jobs than students prepping for teaching math and science? Of course, the next question that arises is why are these college students in programs for which has an oversupply of teachers, and shunning those programs where the demand is high? Somebody much closer to the scene needs to answer these questions. Are the college programs for elementary ed majors filled with students who want to be there, or those who have gravitated from more rigorous programs, and have not done well?
Aafke Loney February 19, 2013 at 09:27 PM
Good questions. I think it is wise to begin close to home, in Pennsylvania, and educate students on the jobs available in the present and the jobs forecasted in the future. Providing this information to parents and students will create a sustainable and strong Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Corbett's State Integrated Work Plan for July 2012- June 2017 is available for viewing as well as other information on PA's Department of Labors website.


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