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Can we 3D print talent?

David2As a reseller of Stratasys 3D Printers and provider of advanced solutions for design and manufacturing, we at DASI Solutions have seen firsthand the impact these phenomenal technologies can have across all phases of our customers’ businesses. From concept development to design and manufacturing, these technologies are used to provide competitive advantages by helping companies drive the right product to market efficiently with less cost.

This isn’t news to most readers of this blog, and it’s the foundation for justifying the purchase of thousands of 3D printers every year. But have you ever stopped to consider the complexity of these applications and the knowledge and methods necessary to pull them off successfully? Or the skill sets required to identify an opportunity for 3D printing on the shop floor or in the front office?  Who teaches this?

Due to the astronomical adoption rates of 3D printing in companies large and small, it’s obvious that we need more knowledgeable talent in the field. Last August, Wanted Analytics, a business intelligence firm focused on hiring demand and talent supply, stated that jobs requiring 3D printing skills have increased more than 1,800 percent between July 2010 and July 2014 and will continue to grow.

With this kind of growth, many industries are in need of 3D application engineers and technicians; this will continue to be a hot job for future college grads entering the workforce or those looking to realign their career with market needs. Thus, it has also brought an influx of new apprenticeships and 3D-based programs throughout Michigan and the United States to help bridge that gap.

We’ve also witnessed the penetration of 3D printing in the medical and dental fields, with materials and applications that have significantly changed the way doctors and dentists serve patient needs — from bio-models for pre-surgical evaluation, to custom pprosthetics to surgical guides, to mandrels for creating invisible plastic tooth aligners. As 3D printers and their materials continue to evolve, and adoption continues for an expanding global population, so will the demand for technical talent to help customers integrate them into their existing processes.

Historically, the 3D printer manufacturers themselves have been the primary source for developing this front-line talent, with advisors that many times reached back into the earliest days of the industry. But with the explosive growth of the industry, they too are finding it difficult to keep up with the expanding demand for the unique skills required.

Ultimately, educational institutions need to rise to the occasion and develop the necessary skills as an extension of vocational or undergrad programs, including people skills (e.g., presenting, adult education, selling) as well as technical skills (e.g., how to use a micrometer, Vernier, etc.), manufacturing processes, engineering processes, etc.

Until this perfect scenario occurs, if it ever does, the responsibility of the talent development in the 3D printing space falls mostly on the individual and his or her desire to learn, along with their tenacity and access to those already in the know.