Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Sunday, December 28, 2014
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Boosting the Workforce, One Veteran at a Time 

A hot topic in policy this year has been offshoring, and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs within U.S. borders. But when we talk with manufacturers of any size, one concern across the board has been finding engineers with sufficient education and training to do their job.

Taking one step toward alleviating this issue is Siemens, who have launched a U.S. job training initiative for veterans, hoping to round out the training of engineers throughout the country while helping veterans to more easily find employment and reintegrate into civilian life.

According to Chuck Grindstaff, CEO and president of Siemens PLM Software, the idea emerged after several employees who happened to be veterans brought up the ongoing struggle that veterans deal with while trying to reintegrate into the civilian workforce. The company then saw an opportunity to help both some of their employees, their customers, and veterans throughout the engineering industry by helping to training them to use newer and more advanced Siemens offerings.

“Often military experiences and accomplishments don’t always translate cleanly on a civilian resume.  In reality, these young men and women possess the skills, traits and leadership training necessary to not only succeed, but also excel in private industry,” said General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the U.S. and International Security Assistances Forces Afghanistan, and Chairman of the Board for Siemens Government Technologies, Inc.

Speaking of the workforce on the whole, Grindstaff (not surprisingly) pointed to K-12 STEM education, but also to a lesser-known issue across American Universities. Specifically, he said that there is a major gap emerging between the middle-of-the-pack university systems and those at the top. Grindstaff continued, explaining that it isn’t our top universities that suffer next to those in countries such as China—it’s the middle. And ultimately that loss in quality has led to a shortage of tens of thousands entering the workforce each year.

“U.S. engineering education maybe a cut above, but it’s an order of magnitude smaller,” said Grindstaff.

This smaller talent pool makes it even more essential to keep veterans up-to-date with the latest technologies, from CAD to simulation tools. As such, Siemens has launched over ten course offerings that span a range of disciplines, offering veterans the chance to brush up on basic tech prerequisites on the mathematics side, to learning how to use the most sophisticated PLM tools in the industry.

To make this a reality, Siemens is putting $17,000 toward each veteran who chooses to participate in courses at any of the company’s 22 facilities located throughout the U.S., so that each candidate can participate in the training for free.

For many vets, the first point of contact will be Still Serving Veterans, based in Huntsville, Alabama. While this organization helps veterans and their families with reintegration into civilian lifestyle as a whole, they have also partnered with Siemens to coordinate eligible vets’ enrollment and route them to the appropriate training center.

Of the ten multi-day courses that Siemens is offering, NX and Teamcenter take the spotlight, offering training for CAD, CAM, CAE and lifecycle management tools.

Grindstaff explained that there are multiple training tracks at each center, each requiring various levels of expertise. For example, a veteran looking to gain proficiency with CAD tools might enroll in “Essential for NX Designers” course, which teaches the basics of NX CAD, 3D design, and the product’s component parts.

A more experienced engineer might opt for “Intro to Advanced NX” instead, which goes into the details parametric modeling, enabling work on more complex projects.

For the more IT-oriented, Siemens offers courses on installation and administration of Teamcenter, allowing both IT and engineering-minded veterans to benefit from the program.

Siemens hopes that upon completing their training and becoming qualified to use Siemens PLM software, veterans will find a job working for one of Siemens’ 71,000 customers, or for Siemens itself.

This falls nicely in line with the company’s 2011 agreement with Joining Forces, a White House initiative to aid military families. As a part of its participation, Siemens reserves ten percent of its 3,000 jobs to service members—a figure the company quickly exceeded. Currently, Siemens employees over 1,000 veterans that were hired in the last two year alone. The company was consequently named a “2013 Best for Vets” employer by Military Times.

Ultimately, the program has addressed two of the largest concerns facing manufacturers today, albeit on a small scale. It has looked at the deficits in our workforce, and the relative lack of technical training that engineers have right out of college.

And while this problem on the whole might seem overwhelming, this first step could help put some issues such as training and education into perspective. Companies may be faced with new hires who lack basic technical skills of their trade, but as Grindstaff pointed out, many of this knowledge doesn’t require four years of classroom instruction to master—in fact, most of these gaps can be filled in a week or so.

“The distance between a basic technical understanding and today’s advanced tools won’t take years and years of study. The tools are relatively straightforward; they’re fast; they’re easy to understand. It just takes some basic knowledge with a training tune-up to get the position to be more marketable,” said Grindstaff.

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