[Image above] A bipartisan bill hopes to strengthen engineering programs at learning institutions across the nation to meet the growing demands—and challenges—of manufacturing in the 21st century. Credit: United States Marine Corps; Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0

Manufacturing is an important part of any vibrant economy.

Here in the United States, manufacturers contribute $2.08 trillion to the economy (2013 figures) and provide 17.4 million jobs—or one in six private-sector positions.

An active part of ACerS membership, particularly our growing roster of corporate members, comes from industry—companies that are investing in technology, people, and R&D to further advance the future of ceramics and glass. As a result, we CTT editors write often about the impact, initiatives, and funding that fuel those advances.

But what about policy? What are lawmakers in Washington doing to ensure that manufacturing remains a focus of economic recovery and revitalization?

For one, they’re backing a bipartisan bill that helps strengthen engineering programs at learning institutions across the nation to meet the growing demands—and challenges—of manufacturing in the 21st century.

Introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2014 bill would establish “manufacturing universities” at 25 post-secondary schools and provide “incentives to better align education offerings with the needs of modern manufacturers,” says a news release from Coons’ press office. According to the release, these incentives would be used to help overhaul the universities’ engineering programs and target specific industries.

The bill also would establish a program at NIST—with additional oversight from DOD, DOE, and NSF officials—for designating the more than two dozen manufacturing universities, who would each receive $5 million annually, for four years, to meet goals related to “focusing engineering programs on manufacturing, building new partnerships with manufacturing firms, growing training opportunities, and fostering manufacturing entrepreneurship.”

(On a related note: NIST’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia Program is accepting applications for its next round of funding. More info on that here.)

So what’s everyone saying about the bill? Here are some soundbytes from the press release—and reactions from around the web.

“It’s critical that our schools and universities equip students for success in manufacturing and contribute to the research and development that drives advanced manufacturing,” says Senator Coons. “Although our economy has created more than half a million manufacturing jobs over the last three years, hundreds of thousands remain unfilled because we don’t have enough trained workers. We need our engineers to fill the growing demand for manufacturing workers and accelerate manufacturing’s growth. This bipartisan bill would help us meet that challenge. By helping schools focus their engineering programs on advanced manufacturing skills, we can equip our next generation of engineers with the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.”


“Research universities play a vital role through their research and education providing the foundation for new manufacturing innovations and preparing the next generation of technically trained employees,” says Charlie Riordan, vice provost for research at the University of Delaware. “This legislation aims to ensure U.S. manufacturing remains innovative and entrepreneurial, backed by a well trained cadre of engineers.”


“Economic competitiveness requires the existence of a continuum that includes a great education system, a strong research and innovation base, a vibrant business community and a solid advanced manufacturing capacity,” says Noureddine Melikechi, vice president for research, innovation, and economic development and dean of the college of mathematics, natural sciences, and technology at Delaware State University. “Should any of these be missing, our nation, like any other, will not be ready to walk the path of prosperity at its optimum pace. Senator Coons’ proposed legislation ensures that we, institutions of higher learning, rethink our programs as to ensure that tomorrow’s workforce is well prepared for the manufacturing challenges of tomorrow. 


“DuPont applauds Senator Coons and Senator Graham for introducing the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2014, S. 2719, to help universities further prepare engineering students for careers in innovation and advanced manufacturing,” says Karen Fletcher, chief engineer and vice president of DuPont Engineering, Facilities Services & Real Estate. “Engineers at DuPont take discoveries from the labs to the marketplace to address challenges that impact all of us. This Act is an important step in promoting R&D and innovation, and thereby keeping American manufacturing competitive in the global economy and enhancing growth of the U.S. economy and jobs.”


“Creating a network of U.S. manufacturing universities would address several systemic challenges that plague America’s manufacturing economy … In short, the U.S. needs to forge stronger industry-university research collaborations and also incentivize universities to focus more on training students with the requisite skills to support U.S. engineering-based industries,” writes Robert Atkinson in an Industry Week article. “Today, the challenges America faces are even more pervasive, as a wide array of nations are already ahead in the race for global innovation advantage, particularly in manufacturing. A new cadre of ‘manufacturing universities’ can be a key part of the solution.”

Coons and Graham hope that the bill would help reverse the skilled worker shortage. ACerS hopes that the newly formed Ceramic and Glass Industry Foundation (more on that here) will also lend the assist in finding the highest quality talent available.

Introducing a bill is just one of the first steps in the lengthy—and often tortoise-paced—race to enactment. We’ll keep you updated on its progress.

What do you think? What universities would be ideal for the “manufacturing university” designation? Tell us in the comments.