My expectations for this year’s MBE Summit held April 1-4, 2019 at NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland were limited primarily because going in I felt that this would be similar to the other MBE-focused conferences and gatherings that I have attended. However, I was excited to present at the Summit, because I think that workforce development is often overlooked after formal education and is often the first item cut when budgets get tight, although it is essential for ongoing career education and professional development.
At this year’s Summit, generally, attendees were quite knowledgeable about MBE, although a relative few were very new to the concepts. For the most part, companies and organizations were sending their subject matter experts (SMEs) to the conference to glean new ideas for progressing initiatives.
Overall, I agreed with most of the content that was presented. To me, Industry 4.0, still represents the distant future of MBE, and generative design still seems pretty farfetched given today’s technology. While I don’t think those concepts are necessarily feasible today, I do think that it is a good idea to dream big and try to anticipate where the Engineering, Manufacturing, Quality, and Sustainment fields are heading. With this in mind, we can’t just look at the one to three-year range for innovation, we have to look farther out and expect that some of these initiatives will take a minimum of three to five years to be fully realized and then require continuous improvement after that.
Much of the content presented at the MBE Summit dovetailed nicely into Action Engineering and the work that it does because one of the key tenets of Action Engineering has always been promoting an educated workforce. For example, many of the concepts that we learned in school are outdated, yet we still hang on to them as if they are valid in today’s technological landscape. Ideas, methodologies, and practices need continuous refinement to keep pace with tool capabilities. Action Engineering works with organizations to document and keep the experience contained within their workforce while also training that workforce in new skills and capabilities required in the modern competitive landscape.
As far as our presentation was concerned about Digital Workforce Development, Nate Hartman (Purdue University) did a wonderful job outlining the evolution of industry since the dawn of mechanization into electrification, automation, and finally landing on digitalization and Industry 4.0. What was a bit of a revelation to many in the room was the subsequent educational evolution that followed each leap in industrial innovation.
We took so-called Education 4.0 and broke it down further into three different types of literacy; Data Literacy or the ability to read, analyze, and apply information; Technological Literacy or engineering and coding principles; and Human Literacy or humanities, communication, and design. I then took the literacy concepts and applied them to the varying roles that exist within organizations to support role-based training. Every position within a company has common requirements, as well as unique requirements. Training must meet the needs of all roles or an organization’s efficiency will suffer.
Our presentation was well received because I think that training and education are often overlooked when organizations undergo strategic changes, yet they are vital to the success of any large organizational change. For those who were in the room, workforce education was something that was understood as a need, but the relevance to implementation success wasn’t fully appreciated, but will be. In many ways, the concept of education stops when one graduates with a degree and enters the workforce and is not always viewed as a personal continuous learning process that can greatly benefit organizations, but should be.
A post presentation conversation that confirmed that our key points were received had more to do with the data showing an ROI for downstream engineering data users. The individual felt that his QA department would argue strongly against the information that I put forward. I think that he just hasn’t had the in-depth conversation with his QA department to understand what their information needs are so that they can be efficiently met.
As for some major takeaways from the Summit, I came away from the Summit with a very positive feeling, because I got the sense that MBD/MBE are finally taking hold in the engineering and design areas of organizations. That is a good thing, and significant progress from where we were just a few years ago. Next, we need to push the MBD/MBE concepts into the manufacturing and supply chains to complete the circle for the product development lifecycle.
To ensure that this circle is complete, at future MBE Summits I would like to see more attention given to a holistic approach for implementing MBE that includes entire organizations and their supply chains. I would also like to see more attention given to Organizational Change Management concepts, because the failure to see MBE as a strategic organizational change that involves the entire enterprise is one of the main reasons as to why MBE implementations fail.
We’ve certainly made a lot of progress with regard to MBD/MBE, but we’ve still got a long way to go to realize the full potential.
MBE 2019 Theme: Democratizing the Implementation of MBE
Paper Title: Digital Workforce Development
Nathan Hartman, Purdue University
Jennifer Herron, Action Engineering
Duane Hess, Action Engineering
Rosemary Astheimer, Purdue University
Travis Fuerst, Purdue University
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