How can students gain tech skills for Industry 4.0?

Digital forces are transforming the way we do business in every phase of innovation. It’s called Industry 4.0 – an industrial revolution using automation technology and intelligent connectivity to quickly and effectively develop and improve products throughout their lifecycle. These forces are changing the tech skills future engineers need.

Success in Industry 4.0 begins in the classroom, where students must learn to be prepared for the ever-changing technological challenges they will face upon graduation.

As technological capabilities increase, it’s likely the Industry 4.0 characteristics students understood upon college acceptance will be different than what greets them upon graduation. Educational institutions must adapt to the rapidly evolving work environment and ensure students have the theoretical and practical knowledge to meet the demands of a demanding workforce.

Just like businesses in previous industrial revolutions that failed to progress, companies that fail to hire qualified employees and engineers will fall behind the competition, and possibly go out of business.

Classroom evolution

Meet Neel Patel, the face of a revolution.

Neel has been fascinated with airplanes and space since he was a kid and recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in aerospace engineering.Tech skills_Industry 4.0_Neel Patel.jpg

“I think the school prepared me in two ways: one, with the formal education and teaching me the concepts of engineering and how the fundamentals work,” Patel said.

While studying at the University of Maryland, Patel was able to start the school’s first Hyperloop team and pod – to compete in an annual competition sponsored by Space X where teams design a prototype of a technically achievable transport vehicle with the capability to work within the Hyperloop concept.

The second way the school was able to help Patel and team was with the opportunities and resources necessary to hone in some skills himself, namely being able to start the Hyperloop competition team from scratch along with one of his friends from freshman year.

Tech skills_Industry 4.0_Hyperloop.jpg

“We were able to build up this organization and learn all these things about building vehicles because of the opportunities and research the school was able to provide.”

The digital skills he acquired at school and in real-world projects were key to landing his dream job at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.

Technology is evolving at lightning speeds, and the classroom needs to keep up. When students leave their universities, being well-versed in Industry 4.0 capabilities and technologies will lead to greater job prospects and the ability to hit the ground running.

Recognizing the tech skills gap, Siemens has been working with colleges and universities to help them prepare the next generation of workers for Industry 4.0. By having access to the tools, systems and programs companies use in the market, institutions can promote real-world education and have a road map that ensures the right disciplines are being taught to empower tomorrow’s engineers.

Changing the education process and tools to reflect the problems and situations industries face doesn’t need to be a comprehensive curriculum overhaul. For example, Siemens PLM offers free usage of its Learning Advantage portal to students and educators in institutions using academic software. The portal has more than 4,000 online courses to help students fully grasp real-world programs. It allows universities and colleges to give students access to and experience in software they’re likely to use in their careers.

“As for Learning Advantage, I did use it as a student and I loved my experience with the suite,” Patel said. “The ability to self pace step by step tutorials on [a] related topic desired at the moment was key in being able to grasp and become proficient with the software.”

But if universities want higher placement rates upon graduation, they ultimately need to upgrade their curriculum – and do so consistently. While businesses struggle with removing silos, students are still learning in a siloed environment. Students specializing in one single area will face greater challenges than those in an interdisciplinary background who can more fully grasp the concept of whatever they build.

When institutions take theory to the shop floor, the experience gives students more than just a theoretical understanding. To succeed in this environment, students need to learn more than just theory and tools in the classroom: they need to learn how to apply the technology to solve problems.

One school incorporating this kind of thinking in its process is the University of Alabama, Huntsville, where graduate classes have adopted the use of product development technology. When students can access the same development software tools innovative companies use, they can see how production process and crucial design changes can happen in minutes.

Mark Becnel and Eric Becnel, two graduates from UAH, leveraged their experience with leading software tools to open their own small aerospace business in Huntsville: the RadioBro Corporation. Having the immediate knowledge of technical software has allowed the Becnels to succeed in an industry with a high bar for entry, particularly because they have access to a qualified workforce.

For RadioBro, their recruiting base is their alma mater because they know the students will have the software experience they need.

“That’s important to us, because that becomes a talent pool that is accessible to us to recruit from,” Marc Becnel said.

It’s because of the opportunities for students to receive a strong engineering foundation and use real-world software that allowed the Becnel Brorthers to open their own business and for Patel to live out his dream: Patel is now a systems engineer for the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars.

Final thoughts

Schools must do more than just recognize times are changing swiftly: it’s their job to educate the future workforce so they have the tech skills to adapt and succeed.

New industries and sectors are being invented, and they need theoretical and practical-minded graduates who are versed in sensor connectivity, machine data and manufacturing processes, data and application.

The recent MIT study on the Global State of the Art in Engineering Education notes:

“…the engineering education sector is entering a period of rapid and fundamental change, where the world’s most highly-rated programs would no longer be confined to global research leaders and small boutique programs. This sets the scene for the emergence of new players from all corners of the globe that will set the future benchmark for excellence in engineering education.”

Introducing future students to software and processes relevant to the emerging jobs in Industry 4.0 helps engineers understand the idea of a product holistically and be well-versed in team collaboration so they can hit the ground running.

When universities and colleges commit to consistently updating their curriculum, companies will take notice of these academic leaders and recruit their Industry 4.0-ready graduates.

This concludes our post on tech skills for students in an Industry 4.0 workforce.

About the author
Dora Smith is the senior director of the global academic program for Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of Siemens Digital Factory Division. Under Dora’s leadership, the global academic program is now a company-wide strategic initiative for the company. The program empowers the next generation of digital talent through project-based learning, STEM competitions and industrial strength software and curriculum to support more than 1 million students and more than 3,000 institutions worldwide. Dora is an accredited business communicator with more than 20 years of experience. Previously, she held executive management positions at CAD Potential (now part of Tata Technologies), where she developed the company’s first academic and certification programs. Prior to that, she directed the Unigraphics Users Group (now PLM World) an independent, not-for-profit organization supporting the engineering community. She also served as president on the board of directors of IABC St. Louis. Dora earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University.

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