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U.S. Workers Unprepared for the Nanotech Revolution

We risk losing the international nano race if we do not invest more in training the workers of the future.

by
Howard Lovy

Bio

May 11, 2012 - 8:40 am

Today, I continue my series of interviews with nanotechnology leaders for the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association. Vincent Caprio, the trade group’s president, asked me to speak to some of the most influential leaders in nanotech policy, commercialization and research, and I’m more than happy to speak to these brilliant, creative people. You can read my previous interview with Andrew Maynard here, where we talk about real risk vs. perceived risk.

In today’s interview, I speak to Dean Hart, chief commercial Officer, and Tom Warwick, general manager, for a Chicago-based nanotech company called NanoInk. As I write in my piece, they are “breaking down at least two barriers that stand in the way of widespread nanotech commercialization – getting the tools of the future nanotech trade in the hands of companies rather than researchers, and training a new generation of workers in how to use them.”

Hart, however, is warning that the United States risks losing the international nano race if we do not invest more in training the nanotech workers of the future. Research investment is great, but it will not mean much if there are not enough workers with the skills to use the tools of the trade. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s a competition for worker training that the United States could end up losing if it does not reorganize its priorities.

“We continue to invest in research, which is extremely important, whereas the rest of the world takes that research and then they start investing in the workforce that’s going to be able to implement it,” Hart said.

In Suzhou, China, for example, they’re launching what they are calling the Nano-Polis project that will train 30,000 workers in nanotechnology. It is a commitment to taking research and turning it into workforce development that Hart does not see happening so far in the United States.

The solution, he said, is for commercial companies to approach their local undergraduate institutions and tell them that they need their help in building the new nanotech-enabled workforce. Companies cannot pay too many $90,000-a-year Ph.D.s, but they can hire educated, nano-savvy employees at $50,000 a year. Do that, and “the whole business model has changed,” he said.

It’s about getting the technology to the attention of the masses, training them, opening up their minds to what is available, he said. “We have an opportunity for leadership, but if we don’t act quickly we’re going to lose it.”

Read the whole article here.

Image courtesy shutterstock and Andrea Danti

Howard Lovy is a Michigan-based freelance writer who specializes in science, business and innovation. He has been covering developments in nanotechnology for more than a decade.
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