Monday, November 19, 2012

Is Welding a STEM job?

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Victor Prussack, Burlington’s Coordinator of Magnet Schools, found this Thomas Friedman article in the New York Times over the weekend and was kind enough to send it to me.

The piece begins with a profile of a sheet metal business owner from Minnesota named Traci Tapani. She can’t find enough skilled welders.

“Many years ago, people learned to weld in a high school shop class or in a family business or farm, and they came up through the ranks and capped out at a certain skill level. They did not know the science behind welding,” so could not meet the new standards of the U.S. military and aerospace industry.

“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be combined.

Welding “is a $20-an-hour job with health care, paid vacations and full benefits,” said Tapani, but “you have to have science and math. I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”

Who knew? Welding is now a STEM job — that is, a job that requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.

I was reading this article to my kids tonight and it occurred to me that even today’s doctors and lawyers - always regarded as professions for the highly educated - have undergone a STEM transplant. Doctors of today have unprecedented levels of information access and global collaboration, and are using online medical records, sophisticated medical imaging technology, gene therapies, remote robotic surgery, and more. Lawyers might have to deal with things that didn’t exist not long ago like various forms of DNA and IT evidence.

If you wanted to be an administrative assistant or a librarian, you used to be able to use a Rolodex and the card catalog. Now these jobs are all about technology.

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