Historically, the US economy has been built on making things: cars, shoes, satellites, buildings and the steel beams that go into them, and so on.
But a massive shift has occurred. Companies shipped assembly lines off shore, and the remaining domestic factories became more automated. But the manufacturing industry still contributes $1.8 trillion to the US economy annually, and over the past several years, the industry has been growing, says Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
But there's a caveat: much of what's now made in America relies on sophisticated manufacturing technology, which means that the companies need workers with equally sophisticated skills. New York companies have had trouble finding skilled workers to fill open positions, Gillibrand says.
Gillibrand appeared at Rochester Institute of Technology this afternoon to promote legislation that she says will increase the number of students graduating with the skills those companies need. At the Brinkman Lab in the school's Kate Gleason College of Engineering building, she talked about the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2015, which she co-sponsors (Republican Chris Collins is a co-sponsor in the House).
Under the legislation, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology would designate 25 schools as Manufacturing Universities. The schools would each get $5 million a year for four years, as long as they meet certain criteria. They'd have to build an emphasis on manufacturing into their engineering programs, build partnerships with manufacturing companies, and gear the educational programs toward local economies.
Gillibrand said that she hopes RIT would be one of the designated schools. RIT President Bill Destler said that the school has a long history of preparing students for careers in advanced manufacturing, and that the school supports the legislation.