When you hear the phrase “unintended consequences,” the context is usually negative.
But in the case of technical education, and this month’s education story (page 18) about the shortage of tech ed teachers, I could not help but see the challenge as a positive one. After all, it means we have students who are interested in working in these fields, providing a flow of talent our regional manufacturers will use to maintain, strengthen and hopefully grow their workforce.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem that we have a shortage. It’s a very real problem, particularly for the school administrators who face the challenge of filling those open positions. Yet, this is one of those problems that smacks of the word “opportunity.”
One of the reasons we face this challenge in Northeast Wisconsin is that for the past 10-plus years, the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance has been doggedly working to change student and parent perceptions about manufacturing and encouraging students of all stripes to consider it as a career. More students interested means a greater need for teachers.
It’s clear the effort is working. In this month’s “By the Numbers” feature (page 22), we share the results of a recent survey NEWMA conducted showing the region by far outpaces the nation in terms of positive perception among parents and students about manufacturing careers.
NEWMA is providing scholarships to help fill the faculty need, and the educational institutions in our region have created programs to produce those educators.
While we wait for the next generation of workers to finish their education, we would be remiss if we did not take advantage of great resources ready and willing to go to work: veterans of the armed services. Many companies in the New North are already taking advantage of this talent pool, but one of the challenges that has surfaced is translating military experience into civilian experience so skills can be matched to the appropriate jobs.
Thanks to the work of Ann Schueller (cover story, page 8), that problem is being tackled. In creating a document that helps translate skills and job descriptions between the two worlds, she has made matching candidates to jobs much easier for manufacturers in the New North region.
Again, this is a challenge that provides a great opportunity. Perhaps we should create an addendum to the region’s unofficial “we make stuff” tagline, adding “and we solve problems.”