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Bar graph showing science and engineering degree holders older than 50 by selected field

Fluid Power Fundamentals: More Educational Institutions Needed Now To Educate Workforce

The following article was first published in the December 2009 issue of the now defunct Today’s Fluid Power magazine.

In our previous article we discussed the need to develop programs to teach engineering, and specifically fluid power principles, to children starting in kindergarten or pre-K to spark interest in the profession and the industry. We briefly stated the reason for this need for new programs is the declining math and science scores of United States youth as they get older, and the shortage of people with fluid power skills.

Why is there a workforce shortage?

Bar graph showing science and engineering degree holders older than 50 by selected fieldThe American Baby Boomer generation is retiring or will be retiring over the next 20 years — taking with them their many skills. At the same time, Americans aged 25–34 today don’t possess higher skills than do their baby boomer parents according to The Accelerating Decline in America’s High-Skilled Workforce: Implications for Immigration Policy.

The US Census Bureau states the number of people aged 55 and older will increase to 73% of the total US population by 2020, while the number of younger workers will grow only 5%. Combine those statistics with the Hudson Institute’s estimates of nearly 40% of America’s skilled-labor force retiring in the next 5 years, and you have a massive skilled workforce shortage — one the US Bureau of Labor Statistics states will grow to 5.3 million by 2010 and to 14 million by 2015.

The National Science Board’s Science and Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2008 reports the problem is even more exaggerated in the science and engineering workforce where more than half of workers with S&E degrees are age 40 or older, and the 40–44 age group is more than two times as large as the 60–64 age group. Read more

Pie charts showing results of American Society for Quality/Harris Interactive 2008 study: only 20% of parents encouraging engineering and only 15% of kids (ages 8-17) interested in engineering

Introducing Fluid Power to Younger Students Is One Way to Stave Off Extinction

This article was first published in the September 2009 issue of the now defunct Today’s Fluid Power magazine.

Fluid power isn’t sexy.

American Society for Quality/Harris Interactive 2008 Study Pie Chart

Source: American Society for Quality/Harris Interactive 2008 Study

That’s the conclusion the international fluid power industry came to in 2007 as the reason why there is a shortage of people with fluid power skills influencing design decisions regarding which motion control technologies to use. The fluid power industry isn’t the only industry seeing this image problem. It’s a systemic crisis that permeates the entire US culture.

A 2008 Harris Interactive study for the American Society for Quality found that 44% of kids, ages 8-17, don’t know much about engineering, and 30% of the respondents want a more exciting profession than engineering. While 97% of parents stated they believe that knowledge of math and science will help their children have a successful career, only 20% encourage/will encourage their sons or daughters to become engineers.

The study further reports that kids don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills (21%) to be good at engineering — despite the fact that the largest number of kids ranked math (22%) and science (17%) as their favorite subjects.

OK. We now know what the problem is so how do we fix it?

The US fluid power industry decided to develop alliances with FIRST (Foundation for the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), Project Lead The Way, and SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) Education Foundation to promote fluid power education in middle schools and high schools. They’ve created a ‘key school’ program, the Fluid Power Challenge, and the Fluid Power: A force for change video among other initiatives. The Fluid Power Education Foundation has scholarships for college bound student who will study fluid power.

I commend the US fluid power industry for their efforts, but there is shortsightedness to these educational outreach initiatives that I don’t think many engineering and fluid power industry leaders understand. Read more