Making Makers: Transforming skills development, igniting creativity, and building our future
Perhaps you’ve heard about the dilemma facing many communities, local businesses and job seekers. Termed theskills mismatch, thousands of jobs are going unfilled and thousands of people remain unemployed, resulting in significant lost revenues and earnings. Addressing the skills mismatch goes beyond simply getting people into training programs. It’s about creating a resilient, skilled and engaged workforce that has the capacity drive economic development. At the same time, the maker movement is growing across the globe and will affect learning and training in ways that have perhaps not even been articulated yet. When thinking about developing the next generation of workers, the birth ofFabLabs, hacker spaces, tech shops, and maker spaces will change how people will become the leaders, inventors, scientists, developers, and entrepreneurs of the future.
As the “new industrial revolution” based on additive manufacturing begins to take hold, we’re confronted with an old economic development challenge: we have lots of eager workers in our communities, but their skills and experience are not well-aligned with the demands of the new economy. This skills mismatch poses one of the greatest challenges to the successful adoption of maker technologies. Put simply, how do we make makers?
Perhaps we can begin by focusing on the skills that makers need. On the one hand, there’s a basic competency in “tinkering” that’s required – from metal bashing to machining to materials fabrication, “making” is a hands-on, nuts-and-bolts kind of activity – and our educational spaces need to reflect this. When we wanted to teach computer skills, we started putting computer labs in high schools and colleges, and opened hundreds of public access CAP sites across the country. Now we need to do the same for public access maker spaces.
In part, this probably has to be achieved at an early stage in the educational process, a fact that is already driving changes in the curriculum in the United Kingdom. A prime example of this can be seen in the South End Technology Center in Boston, where inner city users have been exposed to digital fabrication technologies at a young age, often with spectacular results. The organization FabLab@School is another great example of how FabLabs can be integrated into elementary and secondary school education around the world. A third example can be found in The Exploratory, which works to bring opportunities for students to learn through making and tinkering to prepare them for “jobs not yet created using technologies not yet invented…” A report on South Africa’s experience in utilizing a FabLab to increase participation in the STEMfields offers some great insight into a real application of teaching these skills in schools.
The biggest dilemma we face today is that both the decision makers who fund education and the teachers and trainers who provide it are generally not aware of the maker phenomenon, much less equipped with the tools to nurture it. However, if we can marshal support to create the learning infrastructure – the FabLabs, maker spaces and digital systems – then this space can also be used for the reskilling of older workers. And in this sense, the workforce redevelopment opportunities are significant. It’s hard to retrain older workers for a digital and highly technical field like software development. But maker technologies rely on both information technology AND the ability to operate machinery and understand manufacturing processes. Many of the workers who have been laid off, displaced or otherwise downsized in the North American economy may well have the basic skills required for success in this new manufacturing economy.