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Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce Today

What Standards Organizations Can Bring to the Table

To aid industry in its investment in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce, an ASTM International staff task group is looking at industry needs, current best practices in academia and what standards organizations can bring to the table.

The education of students pursuing careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and entry-level workforce development is a significant priority for industry, academic institutions and the standards community. ASTM International can serve as a conduit for students to attain experience before beginning careers in these industries. Access to the direct participation of industry stakeholders in standards development, along with online tools and training and certification services, gives students an opportunity for additional education, experience and networking. Engaging students helps businesses transition potential employees seamlessly into the workforce.

The industry sectors that are driving the requirement for standards knowledge are those whose processing and design needs require that entry-level technical employees understand material behavior in particular service environments. According to an Ernst and Young article, “There is a growing mismatch between the skills employers need and the talent available.” An estimated 31 percent of employers worldwide find it difficult to fill positions because of talent shortages in their markets, resulting from an inadequate number of students graduating with the skills desired by global employers.

For many years, standards developers and other proponents of technical standards have documented the need for college and university students to learn about standards. Standards help to advance the global business interests of companies around the world because they are integral to global supply chains and operations. In addition, standards are used in marketing and product development strategies and have a huge impact on competition. In the construction field, standards also define legal requirements that must be met, and to some extent, set the standard of care by which the engineer’s performance may be judged. Additionally, the accreditation requirements of many engineering disciplines require instruction in the existence of industry standards and their relevance to engineering. As a result, educators increasingly include industry standards in their curricula.

Scope of Work

To better understand industry needs, current best practices in academia, and what standards developers might bring to the table, a team of ASTM International staff members is studying this issue. Using surveys, Web conferences and telephone interviews, the team is determining industry requirements for entry-level technical employees’ standards knowledge. The group is evaluating what resources and mechanisms would provide content to help prepare students for entry into a professional career.

At the conclusion of its research, the team will develop a report based on its findings.

Methods of Analysis

Some actions currently under way to gather information and develop the report include:

  • Reviewing the existing course content, texts, curricula, e-platforms and outreach programs and academic support activities in standards development organizations and professional societies to determine best practices, define gaps and identify possible partnership opportunities;
  • Surveying ASTM technical committee members and engineering and design firms to determine industry requirements for the standards knowledge of entry-level technical employees;
  • Evaluating whether subject matter experts who are ASTM committee members would be interested and willing to develop course content/modules that would prepare students for entry into the workforce;
  • Investigating assessment tools, including quizzes, study guides and worksheets that might supplement educational content; and
  • Analyzing the opportunities for personnel certification in various industry sectors to determine if there are opportunities available based on the output of investigations.

Conclusion

ASTM International’s work in helping prepare tomorrow’s workforce is timely as concerns grow over retirements and skills gaps in today’s industrial environment. Our study will position ASTM to provide the resources and strategies that address workforce development and create tools to provide the necessary skills for the workplace for years to come.

James Olshefsky (phone: 610-832-9714) is director of external relations, global cooperation, at ASTM International.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.