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3D printing skills integrated into lithium-ion battery and hydrogen fuel cell powered electric vehicles.

Academics, apprenticeships, and redefining the American workforce

According to Presidential Executive Order 13801, Expanding Apprenticeships in America, there are 350,000 manufacturing jobs that are unfilled in America due to a lack of skilled workers. The Executive Order also recognized that many colleges and universities are failing to adequately prepare students to secure high-paying jobs, making it difficult for them to pay for “crushing” student debt acquired through the "increasingly unaffordable" cost of higher education. Apprenticeships are being posed as one solution to this problem as they provide programs that are mutually beneficial for employers and students for jobs and training. The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that secondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) students are among the most qualified to enter apprenticeship programs. However, there is a divide between CTE teaching methods and traditional pedagogy. The Executive Order was clear in expressing the seriousness of the state of education in America, stating that, "Federally funded education and workforce development programs that do not work must be improved or eliminated so that taxpayer dollars can be channeled to more effective uses."

The integration of core curriculum into career and technical education is an ongoing struggle where paper and pencils meet integrated touchscreen interfaces and hands-on learning to redefine the science of teaching. According to a March 2010 publication from the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, “Curriculum integration in CTE requires flexibility on the part of administrators, students, teachers, and the entire school community.” The publication stated one existing challenge is that, “Turf wars may arise over concerns about maintaining the integrity of course content and perceptions that years of personal investment in a field of study are being disregarded.” In other words, academia prioritizes standard curriculum while CTE prioritizes real-world experience and investment in a field of study. It is this disconnect between academia and the 21st century workplace which has resulted in a giant chasm of unfilled jobs for American workers.

How do we address this disconnect? The answer is for traditional and career and technical education to collaborate, a.k.a., work together. Having a doctorate is valuable in academia, but being a subject matter expert is valuable in the workforce. While having a doctorate may not make you an experienced subject matter expert, being an experienced subject matter expert may get you a doctorate. Bill Gates, currently declared as the richest man in the world, dropped out of the academic world at Harvard University, after just two year of study, to enter the workforce as the co-founder of Microsoft in 1975. As perhaps the leading subject matter expert on software development, Gates received an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 2007, with Provost Steven Hyman stating, “It seems high time that his alma mater hand over the diploma.” This is an example that illustrates schools making the effort to recognize industry experts in the real world. The Microsoft Windows Operating System became the primary system used for computers in education in the 1990s, along with Microsoft Office programs. The 1990s were a time when knowing how to use Microsoft Office could land you a job quicker and easier than having a college degree. Now, knowing how to operate a computer to do word processing, work on spreadsheets, and create presentations is a general requirement and workforce readiness skill.

As stated in Executive Order 13801, “America’s education systems and workforce development programs are in need of reform." Not only is America experiencing a huge shortage of qualified workers for jobs that are currently available, but without drastic improvements to how we teach, our workforce will not be able to compete for the emerging high-tech jobs of the future. Modern industries that are booming, such as 3D printing, renewable energy, and sustainable technologies, will require the integration of new teaching techniques from both academia and CTE to help students gain the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills they'll need to compete in a globally competitive workforce.