Q&A with Jeannine Kunz

Managing Director of Workforce and Education
Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)

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It seems as though, nowadays, education is key in whatever industry people find themselves. Why is workforce development and education so crucial in today’s world?

Education is important in all industries, but it’s even more heightened in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing is all about technology and new ways of making things. The industry is born off of that principle.  With technology being a big part of manufacturing and the pace of technology rapidly changing; a lot of that has accelerated over the past 10 years when you compare it to other decades. More importantly, economic progress for our nation is paced by our ability to fully adopt and utilize that technology. It’s our ability as individuals in the workforce to leverage and utilize technology to create new products, enhance productivity, and decrease costs. So, our economic progress as a nation is very much driven by manufacturing, which is very much driven by the abilities of our workforce to utilize the technologies within it which requires lifelong learning and education.

Which demographic of people do you see taking advantage of opportunities with continuing education programs that SME offers the most?

We experience significant demand and interest from the production side—those who managing production or are programming or operating/maintaining the equipment. We work closely with individuals on the shop floor and in engineering. We also work closely with community colleges and high schools providing supplemental education programs to what is already provided in the schools, providing instructors more time to do hands on instruction with students.

Why should people—experts and novices alike—strive to learn more about the gear manufacturing industry and its technological advances?

Both should. Those who have been in their careers for a long time need to keep upgrading their skills. That’s one of the challenges. We all get comfortable in our jobs and our skills, but things evolve. Additionally, we work closely with many of our customers with those workers who are fresh out of college and help take them to that next level.

Everyone can buy the same equipment and materials and use the same process, but it takes the right people in the right jobs with the right training to optimize the entire system to its full potential to meet a company’s business goals. So, the company that invests in workers is the one that is going to beat out the competition.

What is SME currently doing to promote the importance of education and workforce development, specifically?

This past year, we published two different publically available white papers. We did some research and spoke to companies to determine how world-class companies are succeeding and are more competitive. A lot of it came back to workforce development. They were investing in their people. They were looking at continuous improvements in the operations. They were better at product planning and getting products out to the market.  We want to highlight the importance of people as a competitive differentiator and asset in a company’s growth strategy. We try to bring forward the idea of people power and human capital as a strategic advantage for companies to be competitive. We’ve seen through research that those companies embracing and investing in training are more competitive and profitable. One of the unique things we do is connect our customers with other customers. So, whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a company of 100 people, you can connect with others who are trying to move their organization forward by investing in their people. We consult with companies using a structured methodology that starts with identify the company’s business goals. Then, we can work on the required job performance needed to reach that business goal and the associated knowledge and skills to successfully perform. Training then is designed specifically around the knowledge, skills, and objectives that tie back to business goals.

We are seeing one very valuable tool for this is our new Tooling U-SME Competency Framework. It features a comprehensive series of competency models in nine manufacturing functional areas and is made up of more than 60 defined job role competency models, outlining knowledge and skill objectives for job roles in production, technician, lead technician/technologist and engineer levels. Tied to business goals, a well-designed training program, including the Competency Framework, becomes the foundation for performance management, talent acquisition, and leadership development, which helps drive a company’s competitiveness.

What does SME have in mind for 2015?

2015 is the year of workforce development.  We are encouraging companies to take stock of the health of their company workforce—the skills shortage is not going away—and resolve to put time and energy into developing their people.  The bottom line is that world-class companies are outperforming others partially because they manage and train differently.

To help, we do have a new white paper coming out in January on human capital. We continuously add new classes of content, and, in January, we will have new classes on additive manufacturing and 3-D printing.

How would you say SME has established itself as a leader on the forefront of education in this industry?

We don’t just focus on one particular technology, size of company, geography, or industry. We impact hundreds of thousands of people each year by improving the knowledge and skills of today and tomorrow’s manufacturers.

We are able to stay up-to-speed on providing our customers with  all different kinds of resources and training. We keep current on learning and development so that we can bring the best practices to manufacturers and educators.  We can take what some of the largest manufacturers in the world are doing to small shops that often don’t have access to the same set of resources. We are proud of the extensive work we do with companies and schools across the country. Now, more than ever, manufacturing needs educators and companies working together to build the next generation of manufacturers. We all need to ensure those students coming out of schools possess the skills needed in today’s manufacturing environment.

MORE INFORMATION   www.toolingu.com or www.sme.org.