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Design007-July2020

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92 DESIGN007 MAGAZINE I JULY 2020 institutes, each focused on different emerging technologies and guided by the same paral- lel mandate: to develop and commercialize their technology and ensure the creation of the skilled and capable workforce needed to sup- port the advanced manufacturing sector. NextFlex, one of the 14 institutes, operates as a consortium of academic, industry, and government partners focused on advancing the domestic manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE). As part of our mission to help create a deep talent pool for the advanced manufacturing sector, NextFlex has developed a portfolio of workforce development programs that leverage our position as an intermediary. Each program is designed to address a criti- cal gap in the progression of talent through the labor market by bringing together diverse stakeholders to accomplish common goals. Figure 1 illustrates two of these programs and the gaps they bridge. NextFlex's flagship outreach program, Flex- Factor, addresses the interest and awareness gap in modern manufacturing. By showcas- ing the potential and vibrancy of the advanced manufacturing sector, FlexFactor engages stu- dents with the education and career pathways that lead to industry jobs. Through an immer- sive project-based learning experience that centers on first-hand engagement, the program introduces students to a high-technology field with exciting career prospects that typically have been disregarded for decades as dirty, dull, and dangerous. Building on FlexFactor's success in engag- ing students with the advanced manufactur- ing sector, NextFlex decided to tackle the next challenge: educating and training the next generation of talent for the advanced manu- facturing sector. To support a competitive and innovative advanced manufacturing sector, the U.S. requires a range of talent. Ph.D.s focus on the fundamental research underlying new tech- nology development, while individuals with master's and bachelor's degrees design and develop new products using those technolo- gies once they are fully mature. Technicians and technologists support the spectrum of activity from research to production through testing, analysis, and assembly roles. The development of new technologies and manufacturing processes has led to the expo- nential growth of technician and technologist positions. These jobs do not require the deep foundation provided by a bachelor's degree but still demand significant specialized train- ing in the basic knowledge and skills required to prototype, test, assemble, and manufacture products. The challenge of creating the quantity and caliber of technicians and technologists needed by the advanced manufacturing sector has largely fallen to our national community college system. These two-year institutions are perfectly positioned to address the technician/ technologist talent gap with their high-impact training and affordable education but are fac- Figure 1: How two of NextFlex's programs bridge the gaps between education and industry.

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