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Why Employers Need More Creativity from their Employees

Remember that scene from the classic movie, The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman’s neighbor says to the just-graduated youngster, about to seek his first job: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word...plastics.” Today, that one word of advice would surely be “change.”

Coast to coast, industrial fields are undergoing a massive sea change unseen in recent industrial history. And the reason is very clear. The rise of robotics, automated processes, 3D printing, and advanced materials are all impacting and dramatically changing the shop floor while also altering the skill set of every employee that works on it.

What should employers do? How can we all keep pace with change by reshaping our workforces to take advantage of new opportunities? That also comes down to one word: creativity.

Why We Need a New Kind of Employee
Well-trained employees are the fastest way to an evolved workforce, but already the deck is stacked when it comes to finding qualified candidates. The Wall Street Journal recently pointed to a survey highlighting a decline in technical industry apprenticeships, down from 500,000 ten years ago to 280,000 today. In addition, polls by Manpower Group and The Manufacturing Institute cite widespread difficulties that employers have experienced in their attempts to fill jobs, the latter stating that 75 percent of manufacturers surveyed were experiencing trouble filling open technical positions.

With far fewer apprenticeship programs nationally and technology driving the demand for highly skilled workers, employers need to turn to technical colleges and seek a new breed of candidate: one that brings a more rounded skill set and industry-ready experiences to their first day on the job.

Balanced Education
Recruitment used to be easier. Employers could simply review a resume, meet for an interview, and check references of their chosen candidate. Today, there’s a more urgent need for candidates to bring balance. That means a pre-existing familiarity with the machinery, processes, and often-specialized tools of their chosen profession—gained from work experience and internships.

But balance also means other skills, too: analytical thinking, a design sensibility, experience with computer programming, and a holistic view of the production, engineering and manufacturing process that will inform how they do their chosen job.

The New Differentiator: Creativity
It might seem like an odd statement. Why must employers in technical fields seek candidates that display creativity? But consider the rapid rise of 3D printing, software programming, CAD technologies, and a wide diversity of highly technical production and manufacturing processes, and it’s evident why any job candidate needs both technical skills and an established foundation of rounded experience for their role.

At Dunwoody College of Technology, our curriculum encourages a creative approach to technical subject matter and class projects. Students use CAD/CAM software, 3D printing technology, and our in-house manufacturing lab, an environment that gives students critical experience in translating concepts into fully matured and manufactured prototype products.

A number of technical colleges, our own included, are also challenging students to compete in competitions at a new level. For instance, our Autonomous Snow Plow Competition challenges participants to conceive, design, and engineer a robotic snowplow that autonomously navigates city sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots in the worst weather conditions.

Foot in the Door
The pace of industry and the speed of change today demands all employees make an immediate contribution on day one of the job. Considering the degree of technical specificity, proprietary processes, and materials in everything from plastics manufacturing to automotive engineering, employers should seek candidates from colleges that have a successful track record of working closely with industry.

The best technical colleges work closely with all kinds of employers in everything from plastics and other forms of manufacturing to automotive, HVAC, engineering, and more in order to make sure students gain experience with the technologies, equipment, and processes they will encounter in their future jobs. At Dunwoody, many of our projects and curricula are designed in concert with employers. We also ask students to not only gain a familiarity with the up-to-the-minute technical demands of their future workplaces, but to develop a creative sensibility when it comes to understanding and solving real-world problems.

Educators and Instructors
Finally, as employers trying to fill open positions, you should ask a candidate “Who taught your classes?” Try to interview graduates who come from a college where classes have been taught by faculty members who are both experienced educators and industry professionals. There’s no substitute for the benefit that students receive from being immersed in real world examples, case studies, and even anecdotes of daily working life and challenges in chosen fields.

It is the experiences and perspectives that come from instructors who have worked and succeeded in the trenches of ever changing industry fields that will really help guide and prepare the most successful technical workers of tomorrow.

E.J. Daigle is Dean of Robotics and Manufacturing Technology at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He can be contacted at edaigle@dunwoody.edu.
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