Sunday, December 15, 2013


Robo crane. Source Wikipedia Commons

Unlike Germany, the international leader in high value manufacturing, the United States does not have a national manufacturing policy.  Nor does the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have a well-defined manufacturing policy and direction.  However, in western Massachusetts, a strategy to support precision manufacturing has been developed through a partnership of the Hampden County Regional Employment Board (REB), Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College, vocational and comprehensive high schools, the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and, most importantly, area precision manufacturers organized via the Western Massachusetts Machining and Tooling Association.  This partnership has garnered state support to:

1) Bring together key constituents to assess the needs of area manufacturers and plan joint actions.
2) Quantify the need and skill level for new employees;
3) Employ, through a pilot project, a shared engineer to assist small manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) to develop new products;
4) Expand education and training of both incumbent and new employees.

Based on these experiences and drawing on research and the work of others,  new group the  Massachusetts Center for Advanced Design and Manufacturing (MCADM) has been established to advance manufacturing throughout the state by analyzing roadblocks, developing plans and implementing solutions.  MCADM’s goal will help the Commonwealth develop statewide policies to support the expansion of manufacturing, much as is being done nationally in Germany.   To assist manufacturing, MCADM is using an inside out model, that is, starting with the experiences in western Massachusetts and other regions of the state, a statewide approach will be developed.  If successful, this statewide initiative may stimulate other states to make similar efforts, leading eventually, one would hope, to a national manufacturing policy, leadership and advocacy.

Following the Preview of the MIT Production in the Innovative Economy (PIE) report, three challenges must be overcome to sustain and expand manufacturing in Massachusetts:

1) Training: expanding the number of trained employees including entry production workers, technicians and engineers.  While not in the MIT study, Alan Robinson, Professor at the Eisenberg School of Business, argues that training for manufacturing managers in lean and other modern techniques is also needed.  As a first step, MCADM should obtain data to determine the manufacturing employment and training needs in the Commonwealth.  
2) Technology transfer: Creating better linkages to diffuse new technology to new or existing companies.  In past decades, large manufacturing companies (OEMs) maintained their own research laboratories, developing new products that were then manufactured.  In the US, these companies have shed much of this capacity that now resides in university and specialized research laboratories.  The challenge is to facilitate the movement of this research into new products especially within small manufacturing enterprises (SMEs).  A local industrialist cites the related issue of preparing for the next wave of manufacturing change, the smart factory or factory 4.0 that will be highly automated and flexible, able to make efficiently make small batches of sophisticated products.
3) Financing: The MIT study identified this as the third critical issue: “Today, when innovation is more likely to emerge in small spinoffs or out of university or government labs, where do the scale-up resources come from? How available is the funding needed at each of the critical stages of scale-up: prototyping, pilot production, demonstration and test, early manufacturing, full-scale commercialization?” 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The following is a statement that I made today, December 10, 2013, at the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education meeting held at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts:

“The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe,” stated President Obama in a speech onDecember 4.  Obama’s comments highlighted trends that the US, among developed countries, is at the forefront of income inequality and reduced upward mobility.

While we in public higher education have always prided ourselves in providing a pathway to the middle class for our students, the question is: Whether, in the present circumstances, are we fulfilling that mission?  Or is public higher education, nationally and in Massachusetts, contributing to the growing economic schism in this country?

Let me give you some disturbing facts:

American higher education is becoming increasingly racially segregated. According to a recent study of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, between 1995 and 2009, white higher education freshman enrollment grew by 15%, black enrollment by 73% and Hispanic enrollment by 107%. However, virtually all -82%- of the increased white enrollment was captured by the 468 selective four year colleges and very little of the new black and Hispanic enrollment went there: 9% and 13% respectively.  By the way, the undergraduate campuses of UMass and the nine state universities are among the 468 selective colleges. The great majority of those black and Hispanic students went, as you can guess, to open access, under-resourced community colleges.  Thus higher education system is becoming more racially segregated, with greater numbers of black and Hispanic students at the community colleges and greater numbers of white students at the selective four-year colleges and universities.  This trend is evident at my own college: white enrollment has been stagnant for years while black and especially Hispanic enrollment has skyrocketed.

Mirroring racial segregation there is increasing segregation by income between four-year and community colleges.  According to an April, 2013 study by the Century Fund, in 2006, just 16% of community college students were from the top income quartile while the figures for competitive to highly competitive four year college categories ranged from 37% to 70%. Moreover and not surprisingly, community college students are becoming increasingly poor.  In 1982, 24% were from the top quartile, and as I just mentioned, that figure had dropped by one-third to 16% in 2006.

The level of academic preparation of our students is a challenge for community colleges.  According to the October, 2013 BHE Final Report from the Task Force on Transforming Developmental Math Education being considered today by the Board, at Massachusetts community colleges on average 60% of entering students require developmental course work. This is an enormous burden for the community college segment, one for which we receive no additional appropriation.

Finally, I want to highlight the support or lack thereof that the community colleges receive from the Commonwealth. Commissioner Freeland was clear about this when he visited our campus recently remarking that the community colleges have to educate the most challenging students in higher education with the fewest resources. In FY 2013 the community colleges received $3481 per FTE, the state universities $5634 or 62% more per FTE than the community colleges.  The average received per student from the state and student charges is similarly skewed at $8,588 per FTE at the community colleges and $13,793 at the state universities.  And by the way, Massachusetts’ community college student charges are the fourth highest in the nation.

I am not implying that the state universities are over-funded.  I am saying, however, that the state’s community colleges are woefully, shamefully underfunded.

President Obama called rising inequality “the defining problem of our time.”  Therefore, I would argue that BHE - the public policy Board for higher education - make equity its top priority.  Public higher education and by extension all of higher education must be actively part of the solution, not part of the problem, of income inequality and reduced upward mobility.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


German companies in America helping to set up apprentice programs in the US were highlighted recently in the New York Times and the Washington Post.   

The Times article described how Tognum, a German company that builds large diesel engines established an apprentice program mimicking their German model while the Post focused on North Carolina where the German giant Siemens is training apprentices in its Charlotte factory that manufactures large natural gas fired turbines.

Large American manufacturers once had apprentice and job training programs that produced some of the world’s highest skilled industrial workers.  But as a preview of an MIT study on manufacturing finds:

 “Vertically-integrated enterprises used to organize and pay for educating and upgrading the skills of much of the manufacturing workforce. They had the resources to do this. And long job tenure meant companies could hope to recoup their investment over the course of the employees’ careers. Many of the employees who were trained in big companies or in vocational schools they supported ended up working for smaller manufacturers and suppliers. Today, American manufacturing firms are on average smaller, and have fewer resources. They do not plan to hold on to their employees for life. They cannot afford to, or, in any event, do not, train. How do we educate the workforce we need?”

This disinvestment in the training of American workers has left a skills gap that the German companies have recognized.  Of course, this problem also affects all of American high technology manufacturing.  While some vocational high schools and community colleges have tried to fill this void, they cannot address the scale and scope of this need.  We have yet to address the important question posed in the MIT study: “How do we educate the workforce we need?”

Furthermore,  I would add a companion question: How do we give more Americans the skills to take decent paying jobs in a revitalized American manufacturing sector?

Students at the STCC precision machining laboratory making a part on a CNC machine