Changing the Perception of Manufacturing and Construction to Close the Skills Gap

Sarah Fisher
Sarah Fisher February 22, 2022 4 min read
Manufacturing and Construction

Digitization in manufacturing and construction, along with an aging cohort that will soon retire, has resulted in a decades-long shortage of skilled workers in these industries. An estimated 4.6 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decade—the skills gap could leave 2.4 million positions unfilled due to this shortage. According to a 2018 Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute report, 89% of manufacturing CEOs identified the skills gap as their biggest concern.

As if educators didn’t have enough responsibility, molding future generations into motivated, confident, educated young adults, they are also grappling with how to address the skills gap, the digital revolution, and how students perceive jobs in these industries. Manufacturing and construction careers have a historically bad reputation that has deterred generations of students from seeing them as viable options.

But as Industry 4.0 transforms how things are made, it has created a thriving culture of innovation in robotics, autonomous vehicles, and 3D printing—shifts that have largely flown under the radar. Can educators help make jobs in manufacturing and construction exciting again to attract the best and the brightest to those fields? Uchenna Okere and Cady Geer, two powerhouses in education, are up for the challenge.

Bridging the Skills Gap in the City of Brotherly Love

Uchenna Okere graduated in 2012 with a degree in architecture and high hopes to find his place in the field. However, the industry’s job scarcity and a lack of diversity made it difficult for Okere to believe in the vision he’d imagined for his future. At a professional crossroads, Okere followed his passion for construction software and technology. On evenings and weekends, he tinkered with software and learned the ins and outs of construction technology.

He got so good at it that companies expressed interest in hiring him as a Building Information Modeling (BIM) consultant, and the rest is history. In February 2018, Okere founded RevitGods, a BIM consulting firm that helps building designers and contractors use Revit on their projects and navigate the BIM landscape.

The building design and construction industry in the US is already mired by a shortage of skilled workers and a surplus of projects. Okere’s Philadelphia-based firm works to make building design software more accessible, playing a major role in serving the local student community and addressing the skills gap early in the academic journey.

RevitGods partnered with the Center of Architecture and Design to develop education curricula that exposes middle-school students in Philadelphia to careers in the building design and construction industries. To develop the program, Okere organized a team of experts including Michael Spain, director of design education at the Center of Architecture and Design; Mark Marshall, CTE industry development specialist for the Philadelphia School District; Netia McCray, CTE education consultant and owner of STEM nonprofit Mbadika; and Evin Jarrett, a building trades instructor at Mayfair middle school.

What does this initiative actually look like in the classroom? For now, the program is being tested at the Mayfair School where Jarrett teaches design and construction skills to 80–100 kids per school quarter. Throughout the semester, students get the chance to work on hands-on, industry-relevant projects using Tinkercad. They also encounter contractors, architects, and other industry contacts who come to the classroom and offer feedback on student work. Eventually, Okere plans to expand the program to include plug-and-play curricula, a library of design and construction resources, and an integrated ecosystem for teachers interested in this kind of experiential education.

Expanding Opportunity in Beaverton, Oregon

Cady Geer first caught our attention when her students saved the Beaverton school district in Oregon $1 million with a 3D-printed solution to their aging HVAC systems. While Sunset High School is considered a CTE program with an emphasis on pre-engineering, in reality, the curriculum embraces a multidisciplinary approach to learning. As pre-engineers, students learn design, programming, collaboration, and manufacturing, simulating a true engineer’s work environment.

Usually, design programs focus on ideating and manufacturing programs only work in manufacturing and product development. What sets Sunset’s curriculum apart is that students experience both design and manufacturing processes, helping them understand the complete journey from idea to product development. Though students might come in with preconceived ideas about engineering and manufacturing careers, they are exposed to what’s possible rather than what’s stereotypical of these industries. This is exactly what excited Geer about her role in the program: changing students’ perceptions of what their future careers could look like, sidestepping conventional thinking traps.

Geer’s ethos in the classroom centers around expanding opportunity. Part of this work is dispelling notions about who should work in engineering and manufacturing, what to do with this skillset, and why to pursue a future in these fields. Growing up, Geer says nobody at school told her that pursuing a career in STEM was an option. Luckily, both of her parents worked in STEM and taught her she was just as capable and qualified as anyone to pursue a career in these fields.

“It’s important to tell students that they have options,” says Geer. “Every student deserves a happy place at school. For some, it’s theater. For others, physics. For a lot of students in my classroom, it’s the chance to develop an idea and make it a reality regardless of their positionality. I want my students to know that no matter what the world tells them, they have the choice to make what they want out of their futures.”

Read more about the skills students need in construction and manufacturing jobs: