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National Science Foundation awards UW-Parkside faculty members with one-year planning grant

Published: September 9, 2020

By: UW-Parkside Marketing & Communications

SOMERS – University of Wisconsin Parkside faculty Theresa Castor, Peggy James, and Melissa Gregg have been awarded a one-year planning grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), related to the Future of Work initiative. The grant is for Castor, James, and Gregg’s project, “Essential Decision-Making Skills for the Future Workforce in Smart Manufacturing.” Over the next year, they will engage in combined research and planning processes to identify essential decision-making skills for worker success in smart manufacturing facilities. This project will involve conversations with international and local manufacturers and workforce development teams.

In 2019, there were over 15.7 million workers in manufacturing, making it the fourth largest industry in the United States. In the next decade, many workers in manufacturing will be displaced; others will see their jobs eliminated. Nearly 10% of the jobs in manufacturing will be entirely new. Manufacturing is increasingly relying on smart technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, robots, cobots, and more. Preparing workers for this fourth industrial revolution is not simply about training the workforce to push different buttons or monitor screens. Such an approach would only prepare workers for the machines of today and would fail to address decision-making skills needed to be adaptable to the new smart-technology enabled workplace. Their project is intended to identify the specific decision-making skills that are needed for the current workforce to be successful in smart manufacturing facilities. The results from the project will help local and regional agencies create plans and prepare the workforce to ride the tide of technological change as manufacturing facilities adopt smart technologies.

This one-year planning project is gathering information on worker decision-making in established smart factories from different countries to identify decision-making competencies. These case studies, along with an experimental psychology project, and multiple, advisory group meetings is being used to develop a smart factory worker readiness survey to identify individual strengths and gaps in essential decision-making skills. The project end result will be the development of training modules to assist current and future workers in the manufacturing industry work be more effective decision-makers. 

Peggy James, Dean of the College of Social Sciences at UW-Parkside and Co-Principal Investigator on the project, added that this research could mean big things because of the City of Racine’s Smart City designation.

“In 2018, Racine formally declared itself to be interested in becoming a smart city, and recent academic initiatives have focused on preparing the local workforce to take advantage of the opportunities that a smart technology environment might provide. Local Politicians have stated that pursuing a smart city environment wasn’t worth doing if everyone in Racine would not benefit from the introduction of technology to the city environment. Gateway Technical College has initiated a degree in advanced manufacturing to enable graduates to increase employability in technology based industries. The University of Wisconsin-Parkside has a Smart City Policy Graduate Certificate to train individuals in private public partnerships, civic technology, and smart policy making,” said James.

The NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of $8.3 billion in FY 2020, the NSF is the funding source for approximately 25 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. The Future of Work initiative, also referred to as the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier is one of the Top 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. This investment responds to challenges and opportunities for the future of jobs and workers in a landscape with rapid social and technological changes.

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Media Contact:

Theresa Castor
Communication Department - Professor
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
castor@uwp.edu

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