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- By John Stuart   


One of the most important issues facing engineering schools is the increasing expectation that universities deliver "workforce ready" students. Engineering is the only discipline where the demands for excellence are increasing while the number of graduates remains flat.

While progress has been made in securing partnerships between corporations and universities, what's really made a difference in addressing this challenge is the cooperation among technology providers, manufacturers, universities, K-12 school systems, and government. Even more integrative than partnerships, this ecosystem must be nurtured and maintained through communication, content, curriculum, and training.

Engineering schools and corporations must work to help students become successful practicing engineers by giving them real-world experiences. Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Brigham Young University are among the universities embracing "PLM Engineer of the Future" programs by actively working with leading corporations to develop real-world curricula. PLM, which stands for Product Lifecycle Management, is an emerging business strategy that enables companies to achieve strong and sustainable revenue growth by managing products throughout their entire life cycle.

Industry is hungry for engineering graduates with product development skills they can immediately deploy when they reach the workplace. A professor at one of the few programs that emphasizes real-world experiences reports that his graduate students constantly receive job offers when they go into the field to develop product modules as part of their master's theses.

Another example of symbiosis within the ecosystem came earlier this year when PTC teamed with Motorola to challenge students to provide new design ideas for Motorola's successful MicroTAC flip phone. The success of this competition resulted from its real-world approach.

In today's world, the concept of a single team at a single location working on a single product doesn't reflect reality. At PLM, most efforts take place within a multi-vendor environment where the process is information-driven, globally distributed, and concurrent. We must continue implementing programs that require collaboration among universities, students, and educators.

To date, discontinuity in curriculum has existed between the university and the K-12. As a result, few school systems are producing truly university-ready engineering students. As corporations place greater emphasis on hiring "workforce-ready"graduates, a trickle-back effect requires secondary schools to better prepare students for college engineering courses. This means educators must inspire an interest in engineering and technology in middle school, so that by the time students reach the 10th grade they are enrolled in the appropriate math and science preparatory courses that are the foundation of college engineering programs.

Within the last few years, we've also seen greater effort by government to increase technological literacy of K-12 students. Through the "Leave No Child Behind Act" the federal government has increased its support for classroom technology and professional development for teachers.

Never before has the opportunity—and need—for businesses, universities, and schools to partner been so great. So far, expectations have been placed mostly on the shoulders of educators. The ecosystem has always existed to some extent, but the introduction of new technologies, such as those associated with PLM, has raised the bar in ways that require new resources. Corporations have a vested interest in providing the access, expertise, and tools that will allow educators to produce the engineers of the future. For companies that provide engineering design technologies, it means that they must move beyond providing educators with their latest offerings at affordable levels to allowing access to their customers. They also need to embrace their aspirations, provide forums to share ideas, and tailor training for those in academia. With greater corporate involvement, we can groom the engineers of the future to fill the critical demand.