Naples, Fla. — Plastics Hall of Famer John Beaumont wants to make sure the U.S. plastics market can find the skilled workers that it needs.
But at the same time, Beaumont sees some alarming factors that are making that challenge tough to meet.
"The biggest challenge to continued success in manufacturing is how do you attract displaced workers who have moved on?" Beaumont said at the 2018 Plastics News Executive Forum, held March 6-7 in Naples. "How do you attract the next generation to the tarnished image of manufacturing?"
He added that lower costs and intellectual property theft in China represents another challenge. "A patent is just a cookbook for people in China." Beaumont said.
North American plastics firms "expect to pull through because of our history, but only 225 plastic engineers graduate annually in the U.S.," he commented. "That's only 0.3 percent of 70,000 engineering graduates for 17,000 plastic manufacturing facilities."
By comparison, China and India are producing 14 times as many engineers, according to Beaumont, with more than two-thirds of engineering PhDs earned in the U.S. every year going to non-U.S. citizens.
This trend has hit the area of patent filings, where China in 2016 filed 1.1 million patents, while the U.S. filed less than 600,000.
Beaumont — who founded plastics firm Beaumont Technologies of Erie, Pa. and taught at Penn State-Behrend for 25 years — is doing his part to help. In 2015, he launched the American Injection Molding Institute, a study program that can provide the technical skills needed for the injection molding field. The AIM Institute is located at Beaumont's headquarters in Erie.
"We can develop technical people through in-house training — both formally and on the job," he said. "Plastic injection molding requires the most complex part formulation on the planet. We think it's simple, but it's not."
Beaumont said that education "teaches [us] to understand and how to think…with AIM, we're looking to fill the gap between training and degree-granting, higher level education institutes."
AIM "is designed for practicing professionals," he added. "In addition to shop floor training, [plastics firms] need to identify the impact players in your company and provide them with the appropriate type of training and education."