How 3D Printing Education in Schools is Closing the Skills Gap
One of the reasons certain countries around the world are leaders in technology is because of the focus on STEM education and understanding how skills in engineering, mathematics, science and technology are important for innovation and growth of businesses and the economy. Internet usage changed the way students are taught worldwide with educators ensuring that students learned to use computers and coding. However the internet and digital technologies are largely tools to improve efficiency. STEM education remains important so that fresh college graduates have the relevant skills when they join the workforce.
One of the easiest ways for students to develop STEM skills is by becoming familiar with 3D printing as CAD skills are required to design any product made with a 3D printer. At present there is skills gap in the education system due to graduates not having the necessary practical experience to design and develop new products. Companies who hire these graduates have to spend their time, money and resources to train the fresh graduates so that they can contribute to the business. Instead of wasting their resources, many companies are working closely with educators to ensure that STEM education is part of the college curriculum.
Another solution to ensure that students have 3D printing skills is by making 3D printers easily available to students who are studying engineering or other technology related fields. Grants or donations can be used to purchase a 3D printer which may be used for multiple classes, local clubs or shared in the local community. 3D printers which allow students to make 3 dimensions real-life items quickly based on the design provided is inspiring for students. Many large companies, especially vehicle manufacturers like Ford, will hire graduates who have practical experience in CAD and 3D printing.
There are a number of free CAD software applications available online like Tinkercad which can be used to design items for 3D printing. Companies who wish to encourage innovation in their field can easily start a competition for developing tools and other products using a 3D printer. For example, the Association of Mechanical engineers (ASME) and NASA are holding their annual Future Engineers Challenge, where students have to develop tools which can be 3D printed in space.
The aerospace and automotive industry has realized that it is important for graduates to have the skills which these companies require. So these companies have offered scholarships, fellowships and internships to students interested in learning CAD design and engineering. Another option is to sponsor a course which teaches the engineers the skills which the company requires. Some of these organizations like Autodesk and Makerbot are sponsoring a course which challenges the students to design with CAD and make products using the 3D printer. Some universities like Northwestern also require students to spend one year working with a company which is relevant to their degree for their in-house program as part of the course curriculum. Large car manufacturers like Mercedes have also included 3D printing as part of their in-house training program helping them stay ahead of the curve and to shrink the skills gap.