MIT Open Learning
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MIT Open Learning

Preparing to upskill for the next industrial revolution

New white paper from a team of MIT researchers finds that creative thinking, critical analysis, and problem-solving top the skills in demand in manufacturing

People focusing on electronic and manual tasks in a makerspace
Collaboration, communication, and critical thinking are increasingly important skills across numerous technical occupations, the researchers found. Photo credit: Christopher Harting, MIT

In a recently released white paper, “Preparing the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce: A Study of Occupation and Skills Demand in the Photonics Industry,” a team from MIT including George Westerman, Principal Research Scientist for J-WEL Workforce Learning, laid out a roadmap for preparing workers for future technologies.

The MIT research team—Randolph Kirchain, Elizabeth Moore, Frank R Field, Sajan Saini, and George Westerman—developed and deployed a survey to operations managers in the fiber optics and silicon-based integrated photonics supply chain throughout the United States. The paper focuses on the Photonics industry, but as Westerman says, “This will synchronize the expected evolution of technology and workforce needs for other emerging technologies, which will help educators and employers better plan for the future of these emerging technologies.”

They found that there would be hiring challenges and a strong demand for the following:

  • Photonics Technicians
  • Electrical/Electronic Engineering Technicians
  • Computer-controlled (CNC) Machine Tools Operators
  • Optical Equipment Operators
  • Semiconductor Processors

They also used surveys to find out what skills would be needed to fill these positions. The following table simplifies these results in terms of importance to the employers:

If other employers are to review these results concerning generalized skills and examine the responses across all technical workers, they would find that there is a clear trend to increase education in the following areas:

  • Fabrication processes and methods
  • Design of tests (for product or process quality) and interpretation of test data
  • Diagnosis and troubleshooting of processing issues
  • Collaboration and communications with other parts of the firm
  • Fundamental science and engineering underlying technologies

MIT, along with our partners at the MassBridge project, are working toward creating a bridge between a technician and the type of new higher-skilled and technical workers who will drive the next generation of skilled workers in photonics and other advanced manufacturing careers. And while the paper does focus primarily on technical skills, that focus in no way implies that the research team believes that such technical skills are more important than other non-technical skills (also known as “soft” or human skills). Research was focused on technical skills based on the primary goal of developing insights to shape training programs aimed to support the photonics industry.

You can learn more about MIT’s work with MassBridge here.

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News, ideas, and thought leadership on the future of learning. Discover more at openlearning.mit.edu.

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