The United States is facing a severe manufacturing workforce shortage. To tackle the nation’s skills gap, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is bringing the technology and training directly to the people who need it.
Teachers and instructors in East Tennessee and beyond are learning essential machining skills at the University of Tennessee and America’s Cutting Edge machine training program.
“We’re bringing together research, manufacturing machine technologies and workforce development, and it’s working to improve the economy of our state and our nation,” said Matthew Mench, dean of the Tickle College of Engineering.
The goal of the no-cost program? Preparing the next generation of much-needed skilled manufacturing engineers and machinists. To do that, professionals have to get more people interested in the world of manufacturing and bring that mindset to young adults and students of all ages.
The training program, developed by UT professor and Oak Ridge National Lab joint faculty member Tony Schmitz, helps participants understand the fundamentals of machining and enables them to train others.
On Tuesday, educators from Knox County Schools, Tennessee’s junior, community and applied technology colleges, out-of-state universities and Oak Ridge National Laboratory participated in an in-person training session at UT. Local state leaders, such as Lt. Governor Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, observed the hands-on demonstration.
Nathan Kenner, an engineering teacher at West High School, said introducing science and engineering experiences before students get to college — and even high school — is essential to their career success.
“I can take everything that we did here and add relevancy for my students,” Kenner said. “I can say … ‘Let’s show you what machine tools actually are, what working in machine tools actually look like,’ and then maybe make something and see if it’s a career path for them.”
In a world where 2.1 million US manufacturing jobs could go unfulfilled by 2030 and the US has lost its spot as the top manufacturing hub, tackling the nation’s workforce shortage is crucial.
“Everyone’s heard this a hundred times, but the challenges that we have in our current manufacturing capabilities were absolutely highlighted and revealed by COVID,” Schmitz said. “Right now I can’t get a car, I can’t get a TV, I can’t buy a refrigerator or cabinets and it goes down the line. Much of that is because the stuff that we purchase has to get on a ship before we can purchase it.Without being overly nationalistic, I think it’s just sensible for the US to be able to maintain its own economy, defense, and so on.”
What started as a pilot program between UT, Pellissippi State Community College, Oak Ridge National Lab and supported by the US Department of Defense, America’s Cutting Edge machining training program has been so successful it’s been adopted as a model for workforce training and development nationwide.
The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, which manages the America’s Cutting Edge program and is based in Knoxville, is taking that success beyond East Tennessee with partnerships at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and Texas A&M University.
“Everything in manufacturing starts with a machine tool, but in order to get these machine tools to work, you need people,” said Joannie Harmon, the workforce director for the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. “You need people that are trained and have knowledge and skills to use those tools and to be creative and helping find solutions to really complex problems.”
To learn more about the training, visit mtrc.utk.edu/ace/.