In light of today’s, “So You Majored in Mathematics” installment, we thought it would be a good idea to really drive the mathematics message home. Since the beginning of the year Spark News has touched on the unfortunate fact that young adults and young students are not up-to-par when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). There are many factors that play into the reasoning, but the fact still remains that there are jobs in these fields that simply cannot be filled because there aren’t enough qualified workers to adequately fill them. Why? Modern manufacturing requires strong math skills, skills that applicants today just do not have.
It’s been said that modern manufacturing may be just the thing we need to get us out of this economic slump we are in and to create more jobs for the unemployed. Back when the recession hit, the manufacturing industry took the brunt of the job loss. Specifically, manufacturing saw a loss of about 2 million jobs. Since then, only a quarter of those jobs have been recovered. It’s not that the jobs aren’t out there, though. Employers are looking to fill positions, but they say they have trouble finding candidates that are qualified. Jim Hoyt, an employer at North American Tool Corp., talks to NPR and explains the frustrations of his hiring process. He currently has two job openings, but can’t find anyone to adequately fill them. The core reason is that these applicants can’t show they have the math skills necessary to excel in these positions.
In order to utilize modern manufacturing machines and tools, employees must be able to compute basic math functions. Of course, this goes beyond adding, subtracting and multiplying. “I’ll write a few numbers down, mostly numbers with decimal points, because that’s what we use in manufacturing, and have them add them or subtract them, or divide by two,” Hoyt says. When it comes down to it, the job applicants can’t get passed this test. It’s possible that most people assume that since modern manufacturing utilizes modern machines, that these math skills are no longer necessary. “Oh, the machine will compute!” Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
In order to operate the machines correctly, those utilizing the machines need to input the correct calculations. Manual calculations. If they input numbers that are off by just a smidge, the entire machine crashes resulting in lost productivity and expensive repairs. For instance, at North American Tool Corp., they use equipment run by computer numerical control (CNC). These machines operate by putting in specific calculations and if they are off or entered incorrectly, the machine shuts down. S you can see why these math skills are so imperative. Companies that operate and depend on these machines must be run by those that know what they are doing and are confident in their computation skills. There isn’t time or money to make mistakes.
So why don’t applicants or students have these skills that are so necessary to succeed in modern manufacturing? Perhaps it stems, no pun intended, from the fact that students entering into, or looking to enter into, manufacturing programs at colleges aren’t up-to-par in their math skills. At the Richard J. Daley College in Chicago where students can learn how to operate these CNC machines, algebra and basic trigonometry are prerequisites. In order to get accepted into the program, only entry-level knowledge is needed. However Ray Prendergast, the director of the manufacturing programs at the college, states that the majority of students that try to enter into the program lack these base skills and entry-level knowledge. “The majority of students who come into my program are not at English 101, and they’re not at Math 118,” he says.
This, in turn, is a trickle down of the lack of interest or guidance of STEM skills in grade school and high school. Back in the beginning of the year, Spark News took a look at an MIT survey that focused on young adults and STEM interests and skills. The results showed that a third of the young adults surveyed thought that these “fields were too challenging” and 28 percent said they were” not“well-prepared in school to seek out a career or further … [their] education in these fields.” This harks back to a direct relation to the lack of STEM influence or emphasis in schools.
Thankfully, most of these manufacturing programs at colleges like Richard J. Daley college provide remedial classes so that hopeful students can learn the necessary skills in order to enter into the program and get going. However, this can’t be the only solution. Grade schools and high schools need to get on board and emphasize the importance of STEM education and interest.