Comment from Rachel Park

3D Printing & Education: How To Convert 3D Printing Awareness

3D Printing & Education

If you’re into 3D printing, Rachel Park doesn’t need an introduction. As a journalist, she covered the 3D printing and additive manufacturing sector since 1996. She led 3D Printing Industry as Editor in Chief and also edited Disruptive Magazine for 3D Printshow. Currently, Rachel works as an independent freelance journalist and runs her own copywriting and editing company.

Awareness For 3D Printing is at an All Time High

Rachel Park is an accomplished print and web writer and editor with more than 24 years’ experience. Her specific area of expertise is the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing sector, a market she has been immersed in since 1996.
Rachel Park is an accomplished print and web writer and editor with more than 24 years’ experience.

Last week, when I introduced a series of posts with a focus on the importance of 3D printing within education (read Part 1 here), I was mostly expounding the value of preparing our future workforce with real, usable and valuable skills. However, I also alluded to the need to educate “existing and potential new users of 3D printing technology now.” For me, this has crystallized over the last few days – through reading numerous reports that have hit the headlines as well as some personal conversations.

I doubt many of you will disagree that, today, awareness of 3D printing is at an all time high. Just six years ago I was regularly advocating (in print and to anyone that would listen) that before real uptake and adoption of 3D printing, broad awareness of the technologies had to take hold. It has, and I’m a big fan of that, and while I despise much of the hype that comes with it, I do concede it has played its part in raising said awareness.

How Awareness for 3D Printing has Changed

I had two conversations about 3D printing over the past week that would NEVER have happened just a few years ago. Both happened as the result of a whistle-stop visit to Germany.

The first was with the young man that got me a much-needed glass of wine when I arrived at my hotel in the snow (it was that or hot chocolate and the wine won hands down). With my English accent he asked if I was on business and I told him I was visiting a 3D printing company a few hours drive away. There followed an in-depth discourse about 3D printing and its future — his views and mine, which crossed over on many points, but varied greatly in terms of mainstream consumer uptake.

The second was with an engineer on my flight home, he was much more grounded in his predictions for the future and the environments best suited for 3D printers — needless to say the home was not one of them. So, in terms of awareness, those two conversations neatly sum up where we are. But the caution now is that awareness does not necessarily equal understanding — of the different 3D printing and additive manufacturing processes; how, when and where to apply them to achieve greater efficiencies for product development and production; or of the ecosystem that fuels 3D printing itself.

The much-vaunted skills gap (across many industries, but specifically 3D printing), exists now and without immediate and continued action it is only going to get worse. Traditional education is one way to fill this need… but a multi-pronged attack across educational institutions and industry is what is required, supported by governments and international bodies. I hesitated to add that final clause in the previous sentence, based on the vast rhetoric and minimal action that we are witnesses to all too often, but, they are vital cogs in this wheel that needs to roll faster. Initially, in developing this post, my personal thoughts were accumulating around apprenticeships — a vehicle for training new recruits (while allowing them to earn money rather than rack up debts) and imparting invaluable information and experience in the most appropriate environment — in the workplace, whether that is on the factory floor, in a workshop or studio or out with customers. With my daughter at apprenticeship age, we’ve had the conversations and done some research, but she is 100% set on university. However talking to her friends and cohort not one that has gone down the apprenticeship route has any regrets. Tellingly, the two most enthusiastic of her cohort are pursuing careers in engineering and data — female and male respectively.

How Can We Fill The Skills Gap?

Last week at World Economic Forum, 3D printing was a topic (image: World Economic Forum)
Last week at World Economic Forum, 3D printing was a topic (image: World Economic Forum)

And then last week I was wholly engaged by a report coming out of the World Economic Forum (WEF), which gathered in Davos. The “Future of Jobs Report” highlights many of the changes that are taking place across the industry as a result of new advances in technology, specifically identifying “genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and biotechnology.” The report aims to address fears arising around the skills gap, job losses due to automation and so on.

Within the report, I read and re-read the following, and cheered. It is worth quoting in its entirety here, because it needs to be spread as far as possible — and be ACTIONED — in my opinion:

“To prevent a worst-case scenario—technological change accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and growing inequality —reskilling and upskilling of today’s workers will be critical. While much has been said about the need for reform in basic education, it is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared. Instead, it is critical that businesses take an active role in supporting their current workforces through re-training, that individuals take a proactive approach to their own lifelong learning and that governments create the enabling environment, rapidly and creatively, to assist these efforts. In particular, business collaboration within industries to create larger pools of skilled talent will become indispensable, as will multi-sector skilling partnerships that leverage the very same collaborative models that underpin many of the technology-driven business changes underway today.” The Future of Jobs Report, WEF.

While I personally still think that educational institutions should be added into the collaborative equation, I was fascinated to see the emphasis placed on “the individual” by this report, and do, in fact concur that this is a vital element in the change that we all know is happening.

Whether 18 or 58 years of age, we all need support with change, but ultimately regardless of our age, we can embrace it. We are all masters of our destiny and what, when and how we learn. It’s certainly given me food for thought.