Institute competency-based programs over diplomas. New Hampshire’s model has been successful and every high school student who wanted to go on to college was accepted. This is not a new idea and has been successful in Germany, Switzerland and other countries.
As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Sarah Boisvert. Sarah is the founder of the New Collar Network that offers Digital Badge micro-certifications in North America for 21st century skills like operating a 3D Printer or repairing a robot. She is the author of the book, The New Collar Workforce, from Photonics Media Press for which she interviewed 200 employers on the skills they need for operators and technicians of disruptive technologies employed today across industries.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?
While running Potomac Photonics, a laser machine tool and manufacturing contract services company that I co-founded in the 1980’s, finding trained staff was a major challenge in our business. We built internal training programs and after we sold the company, Potomac became involved in innovative training programs at local colleges. I started to research the needs employers have today with so many disruptive technologies like robotics and AI becoming ubiquitous across industries from agriculture to warehousing, healthcare to transportation, and everything in-between. Traditional Blue Collar jobs have become digital New Collar jobs that require a new skillset and the demand for these jobs is growing exponentially.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Fab Lab Hub, our contract manufacturing company that funds our education programs in New Mexico, brought on an especially bright intern who after a few weeks told me: “I have bad ADHD and couldn’t do well in a 4-year college. I came to the community college but it wasn’t challenging and I took the New Collar Network’s digital badge because I was bored in my regular classes. Because we used project-based learning, I really was able to forge ahead! I love using the tools, especially the 3D Printers and just want to spend all my time learning in the lab!”
Our intern showed me that traditional learning programs are not for everyone, and we need to offer alternative Lifelong Learning options for people to excel.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In collaboration with RealityX2 I’m creating a new book, People of the New Collar Workforce, with Augmented Reality links to the stories of people who are working in New Collar jobs using robotics, 3D Printing, AI, predictive analytics, and more! I think it will help people understand the creative new jobs that are available today to everyone.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?
While I have education degrees from my early work life, I have spent a lifetime trying to figure out the best way to provide skills to our workforce. My work with the international Fab Lab Network and project-based learning in Fab Labs has allowed me to explore and synthesize best practices from our 1600 facilities around the world to create a Lifelong Learning pathway for workers. These include the creation of Digital Badges that are short in duration, affordable and skill-specific.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
The concept that everyone needs a college degree helped create the skills gap that exists today for employers. As disruptive technologies have entered workplaces including hospitals, financial institutions, farms, factories, retail stores, and modes of transportation, blue collar workers have become New Collar workers using tools that seemingly come right out of science fiction.
The World Economic Forum sees automation alone displacing 75 million workers, but almost twice that number will be needed for new kinds of jobs in the Future of Work. The question is then: “How do we train young people and up-skill incumbent workers for these new jobs?”
Many of these engaging, high-paying jobs do not require a college degree, although they do utilize digital skills that can be learned in alternative training programs like Digital Badges, through apprenticeships and via project-based learning in Fab Labs and Makerspaces. Since our emphasis has been on everyone going to college, the current education system has a disproportionate emphasis on college preparation. This has produced a generation with excessive education debt and difficulty gaining work in the fields for which they were educated. It has also left behind many people for whom college is not the right option. The education system must change to meet the needs of our people, and our employers.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
1. The U.S. higher education system has done an exemplary job creating strong bachelor degree programs.
2. There is renewed interest in apprenticeship programs with states like California putting substantial resources into expanding current offerings.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
1. More support for short-term, affordable, skills-based training is needed. Colleges, especially community colleges where certifications have been traditionally strong, often receive state funding based upon the number of degrees they confer. This financial model incentivizes schools to stick with programs that are becoming less relevant to students and employers and not innovate in new LifeLong Learning models.
2. Better training for teachers to not only use new technologies, like 3D Printers, but to integrate them into the full curriculum including non-STEM classes as tools for learning all subjects.
3. My research showed that employers value problem-solving skills most in today’s workforce. The US education system needs to teach in a way that facilitates student problem-solving such as through project-based learning.
4. As technologies change at an exponentially rapid pace, we need a workforce that is continually learning new skills. LifeLong Learning needs to be supported by employers and our federal, state and local governments.
5. We need better communication and engagement between employers and educators to create the innovative models needed for people in the Future of Work
How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
In the US there is strong work being done in a variety of eductional settings to engage young people in STEM.
1. Like the VW eLabs at public schools in Chattanooga, TN, more companies need to financially support innovative learning in our schools
2. After-school programs in fab labs and makerspaces need to connect with more students as young as elementary school
3. Mentors from industry, need to show kids what a job in STEM really involves
Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?
First of all, anyone with a STEM degree or certificate will earn approximately 60% more than someone with a comparable non-STEM degree. STEM is one way to ensure pay equality. Secondly, women bring a unique perspective to STEM, and can create innovations that are unique and impactful.
How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
The US is doing better in recent years in STEM, but often after a good start girls’ interest in STEM fades. We need a stronger mentor system for girls so that they can meet women in STEM who are also feminine, pretty, and have good love relationships, including motherhood.
As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?
So many New Collar jobs incorporate design, design thinking and creativity. Without balanced learning, people cannot innovate the most user-centric solutions to problems. And it is humans, not machines, that innovate. STEAM develops well-rounded innovators.
If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Put a Fab Lab in every classroom. Fab Labs foster problem-solving with hands-on experiential learning, that levels the playing field for many different types of learners, especially those with learning challenges like ADHD. An intern in our lab, thrives when 3D Printing a design, while he has to work extra hard to focus in traditional classes.
2. Increase social status of workers in New Collar careers. When I tell kids, I work with 3D Printers and lasers which they see in science fiction, movies, video games and the news, they are immediately impressed and want to learn more. When our Fab Lab at Santa Fe Community College highlights the designs our class has 3D Printed, other students are always inspired.
3. Institute competency-based programs over diplomas. New Hampshire’s model has been successful and every high school student who wanted to go on to college was accepted. This is not a new idea and has been successful in Germany, Switzerland and other countries.
4. Create partnerships with industry that bring added financial support as well as insight into today’s world of work requirements. VW’s eLabs in Chattanooga are a great example of this, but of course this has been a hallmark of German education for decades.
5. Increase acceptance of micro-certifications like Digital Badges through partnerships with employers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Steve Jobs: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
In everything I do, I try to make things happen in the most extraordinary way possible in order to positively impact the lives of everyone around me.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to meet former President Obama who has inspired so many young people to live their dream and excel.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m a big Twitter fan since I can create lists and just see a stream organized by keyworks like #3Dprinting not the entire feed. You can find me here: @NewCollarNetwrk or @FabLabHub
I’m also on LinkedIn:
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!