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Makerspaces: The Next Workforce Development Tool?

By Catherine Velarde.

Makerspaces are growing in popularity across the country and it is easy to see why - in an age where innovation is paramount, makerspaces provide a much-needed place for skills acquisition, and experimentation, and networking. A makerspace is a place where people can work on projects, while sharing knowledge, equipment, and ideas. They can be industry-specific (such as Advanced Manufacturing, CNC Machining, or Tech in general) and completely malleable depending on the demand and interests of the users. Due to their many benefits, makerspaces have increasingly appeared in the K-12 environment, community colleges, and universities across the country. For those looking to expand their community or organization’s innovation ecosystem, this article highlights some key benefits of makerspaces and some important first steps to consider before planning one in your organization.

How Do We Solve the “Middle-Skills” Job Gap?

A makerspace is an excellent tool for solving the ever-evolving skills gap- particularly for “middle-skills” occupations. “Middle-skills” jobs, defined by needing advanced training but not necessarily a post-secondary degree, are projected to encompass nearly half of the employment market in the next five years. It has become increasingly clear that the traditional education model has not kept pace with 21st century workforce demands. As such, there is an increasing need for economic development organizations and colleges to focus on workforce development strategies which provide opportunities for upskilling the local workforce through targeted training. Makerspaces may be part of the solution, as they provide much-needed space and programming for upskilling and the acquisition of targeted industry knowledge (such as how to operate industry-specific tools).

Planning a Makerspace? Start by Establishing a Baseline and Identifying Partners

An important first step in planning for a makerspace is to establish a baseline from which to start, looking inward at your organization or community. For colleges, it is essential to look at institutional, program, and student data. In addition to examining the institutions strengths and weaknesses, it is important look at the issues and opportunities within the local and regional workforce. Speak with local industry leaders to understand the skills gaps in their sector and consider ways in which mutually partnerships could be formed.

Another essential step is to identify internal and external partners. In addition to considering the resources that are already available, it is also important to establish were gaps might exist. Are there individuals in your community who could serve as partners or allies? Is there a local industry that could be involved and benefit? These are just some of the many questions which are helpful to ask when taking stock of potential partnerships.

As organizations (such as EDO’s and colleges) strive to address the ever-changing demands of the employment market, they should ensure that their workforce development strategies address the entire spectrum of the employment market (including “middle-skills” occupations). As makerspaces provide a much-needed place for upskilling and workforce training, they are a great tool to consider when exploring ways to strengthen the local labor pool.

Pegasus is currently creating a Strategic Business Plan for Amarillo College’s new Innovation Hub, which will include a large makerspace. Key to this makerspace will be the integration of industry partnerships, ensuring that students have access to internships, engage in industry-specific problem solving, and earn in-demand skills that will make them highly marketable to employers.

Images (left to right): Trinity University Center for the Sciences and Innovation, Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, Germantown Academy

Sources: National Skills Coalition

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