“When it comes to manufacturing, it is critical that schools keep up with changes in technology. As quickly as industry is changing, the education system must respond quickly, too.” – Jeannine Kunz, USA

Working for SME ,an organization that connects people to manufacturing solutions, Jeannine Kunz helps individuals, students, educators and companies to continuously reshape manufacturing to keep with our fast-changing world. A big part of that work is building partnerships between manufacturers and schools. “Well-trained people are the engine behind continued innovation,” Kunz says. “To make this happen, it is critical to bring manufacturers and schools together to provide both formal learning and informal learning opportunities.”  

Kunz, a recognized authority on professional development and training for the manufacturing community, understands that today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce. She also knows that technology is critical to delivering the training those students need to be competitive. Kunz led SME’s acquisition of Tooling U, a leading provider of online training for manufacturing, and spearheaded the launch of KnowledgeEdgeSM — an online book and video resource. 

“In the education system,” Kunz tells us, “the schools leverage our online classes to replace textbooks or lectures, allowing the instructors more time for hands-on work or one-on-one interaction. This is a great example of leveraging technology to evolve education.”

And SME’s work to prepare students for the technical workforce recently expanded, as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education Makeover Challenge. Kunz was excited to tell us about a new partnership — with 3D Systems — to launch M.Lab21. This initiative promises to enhance high school industrial arts and vocational education classes by offering starter kits and incorporating 3D technologies into curricula. 3D Systems will provide starter kits with the latest 3D design and printing technology, while SME will work with industry experts to identify the knowledge and skills necessary for the next-generation workforce and develop the curriculum based on those needs.

Between helping students gain the skills they’ll need for the 21st century workforce through anywhere, anytime tools, and helping manufacturers get the most from their employees through more effective training, Jeannine Kunz and SME are using a people-centric approach to transform an industry and the education pipeline supporting it. As Kunz told us, “Human capital is behind manufacturing advancements and we are fortunate to be able to use innovative technology to continually develop people.” 

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

I am pretty passionate about putting people at the center of a business strategy to ensure growth for the manufacturing industry – and for our country overall. At SME, it is our belief that a nation focused on making things through innovation, creativity and ingenuity is helping ensure its competitiveness in a global economy. We do this in many ways, preparing the future generations of manufacturers through outreach programs, scholarships, and curriculum.

We are also always intent on developing tools that can help companies cultivate high performers and reach their business goals. For instance, knowing that a company’s access to skilled workers is critical for growing a business, one of our divisions, Tooling U-SME, brought together a cross-section of manufacturing experts to create a new industry resource: Competency Framework for achieving manufacturing excellence. The tool features a series of competency models in nine manufacturing areas covering more than 60 job role competency models, each outlining knowledge and skills objectives. It allows companies to combat the increasing talent shortage and achieve stronger performance from their workforce while providing clear development pathways and career growth opportunities for their employees. 

Can you tell us about an instructor, or someone who is making a difference in manufacturing education?

We are fortunate enough to work with many dedicated instructors who are intent on sharing their passion for manufacturing with their students. A great example is Dan Horine at Virginia Western Community College. Through persistence and a belief that a strong manufacturing industry is key to our economic prosperity, Dan started his program with 13 students and last year, had more than 150 enrolled college students, not including the 250 students through his high school bridge program. He is passionate about manufacturing and committed to showingstudents what it means to make things in this country. As we know, it is instructors like Dan that make all the difference.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?

Back in the fall of 2010, I led an initiative to acquire Tooling U, a leading provider of online training for the manufacturing industry. The move was an important step in SME’s strategy to become a leader in developing the manufacturing workforce of today and tomorrow by addressing the global and growing need for skilled labor. By bringing the unique strengths of each organization together, it allowed SME to have a greater impact on the manufacturing industry faster and more effectively. Through our partnerships with companies, we have been able to help manufacturers improve productivity, quality and safety, save money and grow their business. We have trained several hundreds of thousands of students and delivered more than a million classes.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

Informal learning is very exciting. For instance, think about structured online user groups like a discussion board. This is not random learning as there is a structured group but the learning is on-demand. People willingly give you information and expertise…when you want it. Say a machinist is having a problem machining a part. They might post on a CNC discussion board and ask for recommendations. Within minutes, they may have responses.

We are also seeing companies using data to drive better decisions. One company we work with uses an employee’s badge to track a person’s capabilities to the demands of a job. To operate a piece of equipment, he or she will swipe the badge. If proper training has not been completed, the machine will not work. This badge system also tracks and measures productivity against an individual’s competencies. Tracking and providing customized training opportunities can help employees master equipment and new skills to become high performers. 

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

Problem solving is a lost art. We need to ensure all workers and students feel it is part of their job description. This skill is necessary for continued innovation. 

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A 3D printer. We see this as a way for kids to keep the spirit of innovation alive and have a broader view of what it means to manufacture. 3D technologies truly provide a child the ability to imagine and create what was previously considered impossible. Kids approach things without set limitations. And with 3D printing, you can make anything from jewelry to engines to body organs. This new generation won’t have the same limitations and definitions of how to make things. It’s limitless.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

In the U.S. we are seeing more alignment between companies and educational institutions to make sure students meet the needs of today and tomorrow. There is great emphasis on STEM education. Also we are looking at the next generation of apprenticeship programs, which are about building a program based on an individual’s knowledge and skills gaps using prior learning assessments to identify existing competencies, not just about the number of hours worked. 

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

When it comes to manufacturing, it is critical that schools keep up with changes in technology. As quickly as industry is changing, the education system must respond quickly, too. Schools must have experienced instructors, the right equipment and curriculum to align with manufacturers’ needs.

About Jeannine Kunz, Managing Director of Workforce and Education, SME
Michigan, USA

  • Birthplace: Garden City, Michigan
  • Current residence: Northville, Michigan
  • Education: B.A. in Business and Marketing with a concentration in Economics from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • Website I check every day: SME’s Daily Executive Briefing, a newsletter about everything that’s happening in manufacturing across the world such as acquisitions, policy and workforce issues.
  • Person who inspires me most: My dad, who passed away nine years ago. This sums up his philosophy, which inspires me every day: Thirst for knowledge, respect for all people, and passion for life.
  • Favorite childhood memory: When I was young, I went on a fishing trip in the Northern wilderness with my father and a group of his friends. Even though inexperienced, I caught the largest lake trout – and still hold the record to this day.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): My next trip is for pleasure. We are headed to North Carolina to see our daughter play in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? While playing with the kids last night, my 4-year-old daughter told me her older sister said, “People with big heads live longer.” My kids make me laugh all the time.
  • Favorite book: The Great Gatsby
  • Favorite music: American Girl by Tom Petty
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? The best advice came from my dad who taught me there are no set limitations. If you work hard, anything is possible.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” – attributed to Abraham Lincoln.   

For Kunz’s view on manufacturing trends, and what it takes to gain the competitive advantage, watch her Edge Factor interview here.

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2 Responses to “When it comes to manufacturing, it is critical that schools keep up with changes in technology. As quickly as industry is changing, the education system must respond quickly, too.” – Jeannine Kunz, USA

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