- Autonomous vehicles that make driving safer
- Geothermal homes that reduce fossil fuel use and energy costs
- Implantable defibrillators that help heart patients live more normal, active lives
These are just a few of the projects engineers are working on that could change our lives in 2017 and the future. They are important efforts. At the core, however, are customer demands and work environment issues which define the state of STEM this next year. These issues include digitization, keeping women in the field, educating and finding qualified future engineers, the demand for shorter production and service cycles to create efficiencies across industries and optimizing global relationships.
Digitization is here. Automating and digitizing workloads can mean more efficient work, less waste, and more standardized processes. For operations and engineering managers, digitization also means training workers, implementing new technologies, creating new project teams, and new dashboards to manage everything from personnel schedules to project timelines.
STEM managers need to look for ways to use digitalization to support their lean initiatives. This means collecting data from customers and stakeholders to determine which tasks would most benefit from going digital, instead of automating for the sake of automating.
In 2016, the Society for Women Engineers surveyed 3,200 women and men working in STEM careers. They found that men and women share similar dissatisfactions and complaints about their work environment but that women react differently than men. Both genders agree that bureaucracy and hierarchy get in the way of getting their jobs done. What the study found was that men continue working through unhappiness and dissatisfaction, but women leave for more fulfilling careers.
Organizations such as WomEng, the Society for Women Engineers, and IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) are focused on increasing the number of female scientists and engineers. These organizations are identifying the issues that influence women and their job choices. They are also recommending solutions to companies to create different working cultures that nurture female workers and leaders. Some of the practical steps include: advocating for women in leadership positions, connecting female students with mentors in their fields, providing conferences and places for women to connect, and facilitating programs to encourage female high school and college students to pursue STEM careers.
Investigating cyber threats, creating a solar-powered hoverboards and reverse engineering a brain are all activities challenging young people through STEM education projects. There are two initiatives in the U.S. right now to encourage more high school students to take a look at the practical applications of pursuing a STEM-focused college career.
The National Education Association started Engineering 2020. This school-based program has young people solving global problems while teaching them to be stewards of the environment, managers of risk, innovators, planners, designers and leaders. The National Security Administration (NSA) launched the NSA Day of Cyber. The goal is to “raise the National IQ for STEM and Cyber Science.” On the Day of Cyber, middle school, high school and college students take a personality test to identify which NSA career would be a good fit. They get to spend the day exploring activities such as cyber spy, virtual field trips, interactive videos and interacting with virtual NSA employees. The idea is to connect them with a future in the digital workforce.
Shorter Production and Service Cycles
The demand for shorter production cycles is a challenge for STEM managers but the perfect fit for Lean practitioners. In the coming year, look for Lean to become more embedded in industries outside of manufacturing and automotive. Lean used to be applied to production, but in 2017, it’s demanded in service. Look at Amazon Prime, as an example, turning around deliveries in less than 48 hours. This is thanks to the application of Lean principles at the ecommerce company.
Lean practitioners and STEM managers will be asked to put their operations skills to use in banking, ecommerce, at health care facilities, airlines and restaurants. For everyone, time has become an important commodity. Therefore, customers are demanding more efficient, more precise and more customized service – everywhere.
Companies like Amazon, Uber, and streaming video services are changing the game in the global supply chain. The focus used to be on contingency plans for the effects of weather, politics, disasters, and international issues. STEM managers still need to focus on risk management, but in 2016, the focus of global supply chains has shifted to customer demand. Now, managers need to spend more time listening to their customers, gathering data on their needs and providing fast solutions. The customers of 2017 demand quality products with quick delivery and they want it complete with “an optimized customer experience”. Uber’s easy to navigate app works in 70 countries. Amazon is developing its own international shipping company to compete with FedEx and UPS so it can provide customers with a delivery experience that is on par with its online buying experience.
In summary it is easy to see how all of these items are affected the fields of The STEM and STEM education.Innovative companies are setting the bar high in creating user-friendly designs everywhere from apps to hospitals, to production lines, to airports. In the 2017, practitioners and educators will be challenged even further to focus more on customers, work culture and providing engaging experiences to employees, students and customers. Only those companies that are able to meet these challenges will survive.