By Alex Fitzsimmons, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) supports research and development (R&D) in cutting-edge manufacturing technology that improves the energy efficiency, material productivity, and competitiveness of the American manufacturing sector.
These new technologies are not just improving plants and processes—they are shaping modern manufacturing careers. AMO’s education and workforce development initiatives span the office’s entire portfolio, promote regional economic development, and address the needs of community college students, graduate students, and workers currently employed in manufacturing. Examples include:
- AMO’s R&D portfolio includes specialized traineeships and degree programs to prepare the next generation of professionals to use emerging manufacturing tools. One such program is the Enhanced Preparation for Intelligent Cybermanufacturing Systems (EPICS) program at Georgia Tech, which equips students for the data-driven future of innovative manufacturing.
- AMO’s R&D consortia offer workforce-development initiatives tailored to the technology area and trainee level needed for their respective sectors. Community college programs led by AMO-funded institutes, such as the technician training program at the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), support the development of a skilled manufacturing workforce. Working with community colleges across the U.S., IACMI helps prepare students for careers in the composites industry through relevant coursework and real-world experience.
- AMO’s technical partnerships programs provide training opportunities that focus current and future manufacturing workers on energy efficiency. For example, students at 31 universities across the country have the opportunity to participate in AMO’s Industrial Assessment Centers (IACs), which offer hands-on training and knowledge of industrial systems while providing no-cost energy assessments for small and medium-sized manufacturers.
- For today’s workforce, the Better Plants program, which partners with leading manufacturers and water utilities to improve energy efficiency and competitiveness, provides in-plant trainings and access to other resources.
- In September, DOE partnered with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) to launch the Return to Work Initiative. As part of the initiative, DOE and NASEO are collaborating to expand in-state technical assistance capabilities through AMO’s IACs to speed manufacturing energy efficiency project development, support the energy workforce, and strengthen U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.
Manufacturing Day is an annual opportunity to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in modern manufacturing. As part of this celebration, participants in AMO’s traineeships and internships reflect on their experiences in workforce development programs and the future of manufacturing:
On creativity and manufacturing
“In high school, I was deciding between a career in art or a career in engineering. I had many family members and friends tell me that I was too creative, artistic, and talkative to enjoy a career in engineering, especially one in manufacturing. As you can guess, I chose a career in engineering, and I can happily say that my friends and family who thought manufacturing was not going to satisfy my creative and social itch were mistaken.
Manufacturing is full of opportunities for abstract thought, ideation, and communication. If you have an artistic talent and passion for connecting with people, your unique ideas can help to solve problems that manufacturing is currently facing. Being artistic and outgoing is a strength in engineering – also it is important to embrace the diversity you bring to any field!”
On the added value of non-traditional skillsets for advanced manufacturing careers
“[The Rapid Advancement of Process Innovation Deployment (RAPID) internship program] taught me leadership, teamwork, and above all, how to rethink chemical processes and communicate them effectively. As an aspiring business, engineering, and project leader, [this experience] adds skill sets and impacts my career by helping me to stand out as a critical thinker. Industry thrives on creativity and innovation, and I see myself making not just a direct impact but making an impact quickly within the professional space.”
On the importance of mentorship
"The best part of the IAC program is that it provides students with practical experience in energy assessments, consulting, and project management. Students are given the ability to lead while professional engineers are there to help them out [as mentors].
As a lead student at the University of Illinois at Chicago center, the IAC program encourages the development of my leadership and management skills while offering valuable technical knowledge and experience. I have the highest appreciation for the IAC experience because it has shaped the career that I enjoy today.”
On the role of emerging technologies in today’s advanced manufacturing careers
“As a future nanoscientist interested in neuroscience applications such as artificial sensory devices and artificial limb replacements I will undoubtedly spend a significant part of my career interacting with carbon fiber composites. This IACMI internship allows me to get a head start on testing and improving current composites so that I can understand how to design them for future, more niche applications.”
On what’s exciting for the future
It’s been really exciting to see rapid manufacturing and prototyping become more accessible to people. Ten years ago, it would have been crazy to think that I could have a 3D printer sitting on my desk at home, but engineering has gotten us to that point!
Happy Manufacturing Day from AMO!
In case you missed it, AMO recently profiled the EPICS program’s efforts to develop and manufacture personal protective equipment for the Atlanta-area healthcare community in response to COVID-19.
To continue celebrating Manufacturing Day, read EERE’s latest blog.
Alex Fitzsimmons is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy.