To build the nation's skilled technical workforce, the demand for entry and middle-skill professionals in technical fields in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is increasing. The alignment between educational programming and job requirements for STEM-oriented technicians is essential for establishing career pathways that produce high-quality middle skills professionals for technology-rich fields. Building on prior research on rural Florida’s information technologies career pathways, in this National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technician Education (ATE) targeted research project, FSU researchers are investigating alignment among educational opportunities, employer needs, student readiness and new employee experiences in Advanced Manufacturing (AM) and test the usefulness of tools and processes developed to assess such alignment, focusing on the opportunities and challenges in Florida’s rural areas. Researchers constructed and are iteratively refining an AM Body of Knowledge (BOK) for analysis and community engagement. The quantitative and qualitative mixed methods research design combines content analysis and text mining using the BOK with surveys, and interviews/focus groups. The research team is applying text mining approaches to identify the match between syllabi learning outcomes, industry certification requirements, state curriculum frameworks, and job postings. In interviews and focus groups, researchers are qualitatively assessing the employers’ competency expectations and new professionals’ job experiences. These analyses will build capacity among rural stakeholders to strengthen and expand their technical workforce.
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