By Edwin L. Aguirre
UMass Lowell is leading a project to establish a first-of-its-kind advanced manufacturing technologist training program to support the workforce needs of the aerospace and defense industries in Massachusetts.
The initiative, which is funded by a two-year award totaling $4.3 million from the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment Program of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), will address the shortage of skilled technicians by training students and workers on advanced manufacturing technologies and creating career pathways to help develop a stronger and more resilient aerospace and defense ecosystem.
“Graduates with technology skills are in demand right now, and this demand will continue to grow,” says Mingels.
“Highly skilled technologists are a vital resource that is declining as senior-level talent is retiring out of the industry faster than it is being replenished. Our training program will provide in-demand skills for trainees and job placement opportunities upon completion through our industry partners,” he says.
According to Boston-based business management consultancy Deloitte, manufacturers may face a shortage of 2.4 million skilled technicians nationwide by 2028.
This deficit in talent will impact not only the companies’ competitiveness, but also the U.S. military’s strategic advantage and its ability to respond to national emergencies, especially with China already surpassing the United States in manufacturing output.
“Although Massachusetts has a robust network of defense contractors, they still require a skilled workforce to adopt advanced manufacturing technologies and use them effectively,” says Mingels.
A Manufacturing Technologist Certificate Program
UMass Lowell, in collaboration with MIT, regional defense manufacturers, community colleges and vocational high schools, is developing a curriculum for a one-year advanced manufacturing technologist certificate program that targets students and workers with an associate degree or its equivalent.
According to Mingels, once completed, the online education content will be made free and available through the DoD’s new “edX” learning platform to any school, company or government agency.
“Our certificate program will help develop critical thinking and practical skills,” Mingels says.
He says the program will train “next gen” workers to be nimble, innovative and empowered to make decisions in the areas of manufacturing systems, processes, supply chains and management, as well as to be competent in cutting-edge manufacturing technologies such as robotics, 3D printing, flexible electronics and advanced machining.
“It could also help raise their wages significantly and open doors to further educational and career gains,” Mingels says.
The program’s pilot phase at UML will consist of nine months of coursework and a capstone project, followed by a 10-week paid internship at a regional advanced manufacturing company that is part of the DoD’s supply chain.
“Cape Cod Community College will eventually offer the program as a way to expand our reach and diversity of students,” he says.
Mingels says the program will initially train at least 60 technologists in the region, and the online content offered through the DoD’s edX platform will give tens of thousands of workers nationwide the opportunity to move into highly paid jobs that are difficult to fill but are important to the manufacturers’ success.
He adds that the DoD-funded project will complement and work in tandem with MassBridge, a new statewide planning program aimed at filling gaps in workforce education by creating and implementing advanced manufacturing curricula in high schools and community colleges, with participation from employers.
“After students complete a two-year degree, the program creates an extra year of technologist training, which will include paid internships at defense companies,” Mingels says. “This will qualify them for jobs that traditionally only go to candidates with four-year degrees, often earned over a period of five or six years.”