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94 DESIGN007 MAGAZINE I JANUARY 2022 You know the labor situation is bad when even the Air Force is getting involved to find solutions. Indeed, as was recently announced, the Air Force Research Laboratory is working with NextFlex to come up with ways to attract students to careers in technology and science. NextFlex isn't a random choice. It was formed under the auspices of the U.S. Depart- ment of Defense's Manufacturing Technology Program. As one of eight DoD Manufactur- ing Innovation Institutes, the consortium is a partnership among the DoD, industry, and academia. Its specific focus is development of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE), and to develop an education and workforce develop- ment program. To the latter, the goal is nothing less than the creation of a skilled pipeline of STEM tal- ent ranging from R&D to manufacturing. To that end, NextFlex is working on training and recruitment programs that work hand-in-hand with existing curricula. Called FlexFactor ® , this model is considered far more effective than designing a program from scratch and convinc- ing institutions to adopt it. In these programs, students attempt to address real-world problems, create the hard- ware that might solve that problem, and design the business model for their solution. ey are similar to capstone projects at universities such as Rochester Institute of Technology, which go a long way toward resolving the criticism that higher education teaches only theory and leaves graduates woefully short on relevant industry experience. "Colleges adopt and run FlexFactor for local high school students in their service area as Next-Generation Engineers Need Next-Generation Training The Digital Layout by Mike Buetow, PCEA

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