In 2011, an earthquake occurred off Japan's coast, the most powerful one in the country's history. It caused a tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The resulting disaster destroyed lives, property and wealth across the island nation.
The local disaster also had global implications.
Another serious reconsideration that took place was just how critical an impact disasters like this have on global supply chains.
Japan is a critical link in the supply chains of numerous technology and automotive companies, shipping everything from computer processors to carburetors. When the earthquake hit, this critical link was disrupted, delaying everything from Toyota cars to Apple electronics to Boeing vehicle parts.
The event illustrated the interconnected nature of the global economy. And, as just a few of the affected companies show, the global economy’s heart is still the manufacturing of goods.
In fact, the World Economic Forum’s report, The Future of Manufacturing, found that 70% of a nation’s income fluctuations are linked to manufacturing export levels. Manufacturing also creates a strong middle class, fuels national innovation and R&D, and has a multiplier effect on service sectors.
As disasters like the one in Japan sadly point out, global manufacturing and its supply chains fuel our daily lives.
Manufacturing Challenges: The Skills Gap and How to Fix It
Manufacturing has been battered by recent economic storms. Even so, it’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. Firms are becoming more productive and emerging economies have transformed into manufacturing powerhouses.
Global manufacturing does, however, face some major challenges. A still uncertain world economy and new technologies. Currency fluctuations and changes in labor advantages. But one challenge looms larger than others: the skills gap.
According to the World Economic Forum’s report, “An estimated 10 million jobs with manufacturing organizations cannot be filled today due to a growing skills gap.”
The report’s conclusion?
“Companies and countries that can attract, develop and retain the highest skilled talent — from scientists, researchers and engineers to technicians and skilled production workers — will come out on top.”
Some countries, companies and organizations are trying hard to make sure that happens.
For instance, Germany has a vibrant, government-sanctioned vocational system designed to teach manufacturing skills to young people. The system also provides incentives for veteran workers to continue their education: 75% of German states grant workers five days per year of educational leave to sharpen their skills, according to this report from the Brookings Institution.
In the U.S., manufacturers have been hit harder than their German counterparts: between 2000 and 2010, U.S. factory jobs plunged 28.3%, according to Reuters, compared to Germany’s 6% drop.
However, new initiatives could offer some relief: One of the latest proposals from the Obama administration is the creation of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. This would include a starter set of three manufacturing institutes designed to teach the skills needed for advanced, competitive manufacturing. (Read more about the program here.)
Governments aren’t the only ones contributing answers to the skills gap question. Other organizations are stepping up in a big way. One such organization is called SkillsUSA.
SkillsUSA and 3Dconnexion
As part of the quest for better skill training in manufacturing and engineering-related fields, 3Dconnexion teamed up with SkillsUSA, an American nonprofit dedicated to preparing students for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.
The organization hosted its National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City this June. As part of the event, students participated in various competitions to test their skills.
To help out, 3Dconnexion provided complementary 3Dconnexion SpaceExplorer 3D mice to the contestants in the Technical Drafting, Architectural Drafting and 3D Visualization competitions. The top winners in each category received a 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro. We also gave out 3D mice to the top six teams in the Automated Manufacturing Competition.
Why? Because manufacturing—and the skills that make it possible—matters. Sound design, precise engineering and expert visualization are all important components of manufacturing prowess.
With all the benefits manufacturing and design-related jobs bring to countries around the world, we aim to keep providing engineers, architects, designers and 3D professionals of all types with the tools they need to do their jobs and do them well.
We’re all connected by the things we make—and helping the next generation make things even better is our idea of a job well done.
Stay Tuned: More Skills to Come
In addition to the SkillsUSA event, 3Dconnexion helped out the WorldSkills 2013 competition in Leipzig, Germany—the world's largest event for vocational training—sponsoring the competitors with 60 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro 3D mice. 3Dconnexion has also supported past Skills competitions in Canada and the U.K.
Stay tuned for more 3Dconnexion content about SkillsUSA and WorldSkills: we've got plenty of exciting stories to tell about the next generation of skilled talent!
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Photo Credit: Kenichi Nobusue via Flickr.