Education Partnerships Urged for Industry

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Education Partnerships Urged for Industry
Gears in a transmission. © Mathew Alexander

Non-degree certificate programs and six-month career certifications could help draw more young people into tribology and lubrication engineering, helping ensure the workforce in those fields stays strong, a university president said during the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers’ Virtual Annual Meeting and Exhibition.

“The opportunity exists for STLE and the tribology community to be a transformational leader,” Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University, said on May 17 during his keynote, “Inflection Point: A New Paradigm for Tribology Education.”

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Lovell noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, college and universities faced tremendous headwinds from a myriad of factors, “as the public was doubting the value of our sector. Student loan debt was considered a national crisis. Families were questioning the cost of college and the relevance of the degree.” Meanwhile, he noted employers were concerned that the skills of new college graduates didn’t align with the future needs of their workforce.

He recalled that a Gallup poll released in December 2019 found that nearly 50% of Americas no longer viewed college as necessary to a successful career. “As a result, the financial model for many universities was broken,” Lovell said. “A record number of institutions were closing, and higher education was ripe for disruption.”

It was in that situation, that the pandemic hit, he recalled, impacting every person and business sector in the United States. “Since the pandemic hit, higher education institutions lost more than $183 billion dollars in revenue and had to restructure to make ends meet,” he said. “As we look ahead, higher education is at in inflection standpoint. In this uncertainty, opportunities abound for creative new education paradigms.”

Lovell said a key opportunity is relevant to the field of tribology. “In STLE’s 2020 Emerging Trends report, a critical need was identified for replacing an aging workforce,” he said. “This need comes at a time when the pipeline of college graduates with tribology experience is diminishing. The decrease in graduates is a result of fewer academic institutions providing tribology education and decreased research funding into the field.” Resources are instead diverted into emerging fields, he added, and many engineers and scientists no longer have opportunities for professional development.

“This leads to a fundamental question – how can STLE and the tribology community take a leadership role in developing new education paradigms that produce more tribologists and lubrication engineers?” Lovell asked. “In my opinion, there are two emerging educational trends that hold promise for the future of the tribology field.”

He said the first relates to non-degree certificate programs that can help attract Millenials – generally those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s – and Generation Zs – generally people born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s. “Millenials and Gen Zs are rethinking the value of college,” Lovell noted. “Just last year, enrollment for this group in short term credential programs increased by 70% to nearly 8 million people. Many of these programs were launched through unique consortiums and partnerships that can serve as a potential model for STLE and its member institutions.”

As an example, he highlighted a program he has been part of at Marquette in the field of banking, which had no professional certificate or credentialing programs for bankers. Realizing that, the university reached out to the American Bankers Association to partner in the development of the nation’s first certified professional banking program. Through the partnership, he said, Marquette will develop online courses and exams for certification, continuing education and recertification, while the American Banking Association will market and deliver courses using their existing framework and infrastructure.

“It is conservatively estimated the program will serve between 10,000 and 20,000 professionals and generate 5 million to 10 million in revenue each year,” Lovell said. “The question I’d like to put to each of you is, why couldn’t STLE partner with one or more universities to develop short term tribology courses and certificate programs to create a tribology workforce?”

A second trend he highlighted was an innovation within the private sector, where corporations are creating their own credentials programs. “These programs are immersed in companies, and provide hands on experiences that are highly attractive to students,” he said. “They offer opportunities to obtain sought-after skills at little or no cost while guaranteeing pathways to high-quality, in-demand jobs.”

According to Lovell, Google initiated the first such program when it introduced six-month online career certificates in three areas – data analytics, project management and user experience design. Then to attract future employees, the company offered 100,000 scholarships for students to enroll in the program. “The company then announced they would treat the online career certificates as equivalent to a four-year degree for anyone who applied for a job at Google in a related field,” he said. Fellow technology giants Microsoft and Amazon quickly launched similar programs.

“The natural question becomes, could a consortium of corporations work with STLE to develop six-month tribology and lubrication engineering career certifications that will lead to a guaranteed job at a partnering company?” he asked.

Lovell emphasized the need to acknowledge external forces are transforming higher education at an unprecedented pace. “As it is being disrupted, innovative new models are being introduced, and STLE and its member organizations have the opportunity to be on the leading edge of change,” he asserted. “If we are creative, and partner together, we can definite our future, and ensure that the tribology and lubrication engineering workforce will be strong for decades to come.”

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