In conversations with attendees at this year’s Plex conference, the industry-wide skills shortage was a common frustration. Many businesses are using Plex to automate processes that were previously done manually, enabling some shop-floor activities to be done with fewer people, allowing reallocation of resources throughout the company. Others are doing more on-the-job training with mobile devices and looking ahead to using augmented reality to instruct workers on the shop floor. While these are great solutions, they don’t really get to the heart of the problem. Our young people need to be educated and learn skills that will train them for the jobs that are available.
Mike Rowe, well-known TV host and podcaster, delivered the opening keynote on the second day of the conference and provided his insight into the issue. Inspired by a trip to the San Francisco sewers to do an interview for Evening Magazine, Mike traveled across 50 states and apprenticed at 300 “dirty” jobs, ranging from road kill cleaner to worm dung farmer. After this experience, Mike had a “peripeteia” – he reached a turning point in his thinking about “dirty” jobs. With 5.6 million available jobs and 1.3 trillion in student loans funding education for jobs that don’t exist, he concluded that the world needs to change its thinking. As a result, Mike founded mikeroweWORKS Foundation, a public charity dedicated to providing the technical and vocational training required for the 3 million available skilled trade jobs currently available in the US—jobs that pay well but don’t necessarily require a college degree.
During the conference, Plex presented Mike Rowe with a $25,000 donation which will be used to provide scholarships to people getting trained for high-demand skilled jobs. The Foundation has already provided $5 million in scholarships to many individuals who are pursuing skilled trade occupations including welders, instrumentation technicians, industrial technicians, heavy equipment technicians electrical engineer, HVAC technician, robotics and automation engineers to name a few.
There are others who have jumped on this bandwagon—IBM, for example. In November 2016, IBM Chairman, President and CEO, Ginni Rometty, penned an open letter to then President-elect Donald Trump. In the letter, she described “new-collar” jobs that are best suited to vocational education, rather than a traditional four year college. Google is another example—having seen the number of employees without a college degree rise in several successive years.
Collaboration and Community
Collaboration was an overarching theme at PowerPlex 2017. With over 13,000 active users in the Plex community worldwide, many rely on other users to work through issues or provide suggestions as to how Plex can be used in different and innovative ways to meet business goals. One third of the sessions at PowerPlex were hosted by customers, sharing ideas and insight with the rest of the community. Also worthy of note, the conference includes customers, prospects and partners. Plex prospects are encouraged to solicit opinions and feedback from existing customers—and there are many forums for them to do this. Finally, this year marked the third year that the conference included a PowerPlex session devoted to women. This year’s luncheon included a range of capable, successful women in executive positions who had great advice for women pursuing careers in the male-dominated fields of technology and manufacturing.
Hopefully the efforts of folks like Mike Rowe, Plex, members of the larger Plex community and other business leaders will inspire creative, talented, hard-working young men and women to pursue the wealth of career opportunities that exist today in manufacturing and technology.