Bridging the gap: Industry education collaboration for the future workforce

Collaboration between education and industry is more important than ever when looking to recruit the next generation of engineers and manufacturing professionals.

Siemens has sponsored this post.

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the intersection between education and industry is more critical than ever. Whether you’re talking about the skills gap in industry or how to recruit, stimulate and retain younger employees, it has become apparent that larger industry needs to work with educators and the educational system in order to be successful.

The “changing of the guard” from generation to generation has been somewhat short-circuited as of late. While there is no specific place to lay the blame for this lack of generational hand-off in industry — some blame the older generations, some the younger, some blame Covid and some just blame technology — it’s undeniable that industrial leaders need help onboarding Gen Z to the world of engineering and manufacturing.

Jason Bruns helps educators and industry connect through his work at the Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence.

Jason Bruns helps educators and industry connect through his work at the Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence.

Jason Bruns, director at the Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence, sheds light on the imperative need for collaboration between these two domains in order to adequately prepare the future workforce. “We need industry to engage with educators and with students to provide the environment to have that collaboration, to have that connection, to have that knowledge,” he says. As Gen Z enters the workforce and the paradigm shifts in technological advancement, the need for these collaborations is becoming more and more apparent.

Understanding the dynamics of Gen Z in the workforce

Bruns emphasizes the unique characteristics of Gen Z as a cohort defined by its digital nativity and dynamic worldview. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z craves purpose-driven engagement and social responsibility from the organizations they associate with.

Through his work at the Minnesota State Engineering Center of Excellence, Bruns works with both educators and industry professionals to help both parties connect. He works to create opportunities to drive student interest in industry while also showcasing their capabilities and talents to industry experts.

While well-known robot competitions are a great way for industry to connect with students, Bruns finds that those opportunities can be limiting — they can be expensive and cater to a specific type of STEM student and skillset. Bruns and his team aim to connect students with more than just robotics, and create a broad-based application of concepts and skills. The skills centered on robotics, while useful, can relegate students to a limited scope of engineering — sometimes making things overly complex to complete limited tasks.

“At the Engineering Center of Excellence, we create things like an engineering machine design competition — basically challenging students to make a chain reaction machine,” he says. Similar to a Rube Goldberg Machine, the competition that the Center of Excellence has created leverages a variety of engineering and manufacturing disciplines – providing students with a holistic method of learning and connecting to varying industrial concepts and encouraging them to consider systems rather than singular tasks.

“They can download the design challenge for free. All the rubrics are provided,” he says.

These competitions give industry leaders a valuable opportunity to mentor and connect with students in an almost passive networking process. As students connect with industry partners, they learn more about what the organizations do, as well as understand what kind of people work within these organizations. While the Center of Excellence competitions aren’t designed to directly recruit students, they do provide a valuable runway to connect students with industry organically.

These competitions are just a small piece of the connection Bruns helps facilitate between education and industry. Bruns and his team work with a number of educators and organizations to help connect the dots between the two spaces.

Bruns explains how he understands the challenge for business owners to participate in programs like this. Afterall, most of our industry has an intense obsession with developing more and more efficiency — it doesn’t feel very efficient to pull an employee off a machine or away from their design to go volunteer at a local high school.  But industry participation in this type of mentorship is vital.  “It’ll come back to bite you later, if you don’t,” he says.

Bruns works with industry professionals to help understand the best educational methods and better ways to recruit Gen Z. (Image: Jason Bruns.)

Bruns works with industry professionals to help understand the best educational methods and better ways to recruit Gen Z. (Image: Jason Bruns.)

Bruns also underscores how important it is for industries to adapt their recruitment and retention strategies to align with the values and preferences of the younger generation. “The onboarding process with regards to companies is so critical and that sometimes falls by the wayside,” he says. “What’s the most critical time for a new employee? Probably the first couple weeks. Do they feel welcomed?”

He advocates for creating growth opportunities within organizations that resonate with the digital-centric mindset of Gen Z and highlight the pivotal role of technology, particularly artificial intelligence (AI), in shaping future job roles.

“The businesses that engage and provide these opportunities are going to be successful. Think of it this way: Fear is based on one of two things. Things I can’t control, or things I don’t understand,” he adds.

“Eliminate one of those two and there is no longer any fear. So, envision a young person that is now familiar with your organization. If they’re familiar with you, they’ll seek you out because they’re familiar with you. You’ve eliminated the fear. Again, the individuals that connect with the students through outreach opportunities — capstone projects, tours, internships, all those things — reap the rewards because they are engaging. They’re helping remove that fear, that misunderstanding or lack of knowledge.”

The evolution of industry roles and educational preparation

As technological advancements redefine industry landscapes, traditional job roles are undergoing a transformation. For decades, there used to be an unspoken war between the engineers in the front office and the machinists out in the shop. These days, there is more crossover and collaboration between varying disciplines in a business. Engineers are becoming marketers, operators are becoming designers, etc.

Bruns explains how engineers, for instance, are no longer confined to desk-bound tasks but are increasingly involved in hands-on collaborative efforts, facilitated by innovations like 3D printing. Design for manufacturability is more than just a buzzword, it has become a vital piece to the success of many businesses and these cross-discipline efforts help.

While many Gen Zs may not know exactly how their iPhone is manufactured, many of them have experienced 3D printing. Bruns stresses the significance of integrating emerging technologies into educational curricula to equip students with the requisite skills for future employment while also encouraging employers to incorporate some of those technologies into the engineering workspace. Adding technology that students — aka future employees — are already familiar and comfortable with creates an even smoother runway for connecting and getting students excited about industry.

Students will connect with newer technologies, see them in a practical setting (rather than just 3D printing tchotchkes) and recognize the value in both the emerging tech and the older system of processes/machine that are necessary for business to run. The gap between the classroom and the industrial world becomes easier to bridge in this way.

Bruns discusses the value of an industry-education collaboration in hopes of making recruiting and retaining Gen Z employees simpler. (Image: Jason Bruns.)

Bruns discusses the value of an industry-education collaboration in hopes of making recruiting and retaining Gen Z employees simpler. (Image: Jason Bruns.)

Industry-Education Collaboration Is a Path to Success

While industry-education collaboration isn’t a new concept, it often gets pushed to the wayside. That’s why Bruns strongly advocates for enhanced collaboration between industry and education through initiatives such as apprenticeships, internships and experiential learning opportunities. By opening doors for students to gain firsthand exposure to industry practices, organizations can play a pivotal role in nurturing talent pipelines. He emphasizes the importance of proactive engagement from both sides, with industry providing resources and support to educational institutions and educators leveraging industry expertise to enrich their teaching.

Drawing from his experiences as an engineer, Bruns highlights the partnership between Siemens and educational institutions through the Siemens’ Solid Edge educational resources. The initiative offers access to industry-standard CAD software, project-based curriculum, and industry certifications that empower students to develop essential skills aligned with Industry 4.0 principles. Additionally, it provides the CAD resources needed for competition and educational efforts that the Center for Excellence is offering to students. These collaborations are what bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, thereby enhancing students’ employability and industry readiness, not to mention the quality of their projects.

“I connected with Siemens through the curriculum created for secondary school students,” says Bruns. “It’s project-problem-based… it’s the only thing that I have found that teaches Industry 4.0. The CAD is free. The curriculum is free. And there aren’t many things out there that provide this kind of opportunity.”

In the context of Industry 4.0, Bruns emphasizes the importance of equipping students with automation, robotics and cloud-based learning skills. He underscores the need for educators to embrace innovative teaching methods that align with the rapidly evolving technological landscape. By integrating industry-relevant content into educational curricula, institutions can prepare students to navigate the complexities of modern engineering and manufacturing environments effectively.

Key strategies for engaging industry in education

Bruns offers practical advice for educators seeking to engage industry partners effectively, such as leveraging local chambers of commerce as conduits for connecting with industry stakeholders and identifying opportunities for collaboration. By aligning educational initiatives with industry needs and fostering meaningful partnerships, educators can cultivate a culture of continuous learning and innovation.

“Industry defines if we, as teachers, are successful in creating a good workforce. Well, with Siemens, we have industry investing in creating and providing curriculum and software that young people in schools can utilize within their school,” he says.

Utilizing resources that larger corporations have developed for education is part of the puzzle, but the other piece goes back to that familiarization of the businesses and industries. Involving ground-level employees in mentorship or collaboration with educators will pay off in the long-term, according to Bruns.

By fostering partnerships between industry and education, he advocates for a holistic approach to prepare students for the evolving demands of the workforce. Collaboration between education and industry in preparing the future workforce is of critical importance. By embracing innovative teaching methodologies, fostering experiential learning opportunities and leveraging industry partnerships, educational institutions can equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in an ever-evolving industrial landscape. Through proactive engagement and a shared commitment to excellence, industry and education can collectively succeed in fostering new generations of engineers and manufacturers.

To learn more about Siemens secondary school resources available to educators, visit Siemens