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The New Collar Workforce | Book Review

Review by David DeWitt, Editor ManufacturingStories®

“The New Collar Workforce” by Sarah Boisvert presents the workforce challenges of 21st century manufacturing.  In her introduction Boisvert discusses how the general public’s often less than favorable image of manufacturing coupled with retiring workers is projected to result in 2.7 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2025.  This shortfall in job applicants is also creating a “Skills Gap” of both traditional skills, like machining and similar vocational skills as well as “New Collar” skills like Computer Aided Design (CAD), 3D Printing, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the like.

In Part One Boisvert establishes a clear “minds eye” image of what 21st century manufacturing facilities look like.  Inside the windowless walls we all drive by every day we find highly automated equipment controlled by internet connected computerized systems tended to by skilled workers often with the assistance of collaborative robots performing repetitive tasks.  As Boisvert states, “This is NOT your Father’s Factory Floor”.  I found the presentation of  the “Four Pillars” of GE’s Brilliant Factory to be particularly helpful in grasping the depth of processes and technologies that make up Industry 4.0.

The first chapter of Part Two identifies “New Collar” skills in finer detail. Boisvert uses a number of examples from a job study conducted by the “Fab Lab Hub” an organization she founded which is part of the Fab Lab Network based at the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT. The two remaining chapters present well documented traditional methods and programs to both learn and develop the requisite “New Collar” skills.

In Part Three Boisvert presents a number of non-traditional and innovative training programs that fully embrace Ben Franklin’s words.  Referencing Fab Lab and MakerSpace examples across the US as well as internationally, Boisvert shows how solving real world problems demands and builds “New Collar” skill sets.  In chapter twelve the makers meet the entrepreneurs.  Boisvert shows how entrepreneurial enthusiasm and investment drive technological innovation and skills development.

The book utilizes well placed and unique graphics, tables and photos.  One of the graphics I found extremely powerful is titled “The Learning Universe” on page 117.  On a black field is a central globe depicting All Learners.  Circling around the globe are planetary bands of the traditional and primary methods learners use to gain the knowledge required to solve problems.  Covering the outermost areas, and sprinkled like stars, are the many less traditional but very powerful new learning methodologies available to the “New Collar Workforce”.

Part Four concludes with recommendations for manufacturers, educators and communities.  The central theme here is collaboration, diversity, action and some fun as you go.  Boisvert suggests that although “Star Trek” replicators are not right around the corner, Technologies like 3D Printing, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Visual Reality, Predictive Maintenance and the Internet of Things will continue to change manufacturing and create “New Collar Workforce” challenges and opportunities.

The book moved along quite nicely until I hit Chapter 11 that dealt with examples of Fab Labs and Makerspaces.  Although the examples were all interesting, I felt Boisvert could have made her point with a few less examples.  The book is extremely well documented with URL links to sources and resources.  The extensive index also serves as a glossary of new technology terms which I found quite complete and helpful.

Boisvert does an outstanding job presenting a complex subject in a thoughtful and organized way.  I came away feeling like I understood the issues, had some good ideas of what I personally could do and felt motivated to do them.

Reviewed by David DeWitt, Editor ManufacturingStories®, LinkedIn Profile

About the book author:

Sarah Boisvert has more than 30 years of experience in the design, development and commercialization of high-technology products utilizing digital fabrication methods including laser machining and 3D printing. Her graduate work in market segmentation at Johns Hopkins University led to her expertise in productization of high tech devices. Ms. Boisvert is a co-founder of the commercial division of Potomac Photonics Inc. of Baltimore, Md., which she joined to commercialize a proprietary RF-discharge excimer laser. Following the sale of the company in 1999, Ms. Boisvert founded Fab Lab Hub, part of the MIT/CBA-based Fab Lab Network, in order to foster entrepreneurship and workforce training in digital fabrication manufacturing skills. She returned to Potomac part time as chief 3D printing officer in February 2014. Ms. Boisvert is a fellow and past president of the Laser Institute of America and has served on the Optical Society of America’s Industry Advisory Board as well as on the boards of numerous international technical societies. For fun, she creates 3D-printed jewelry.

About Photonics Media Press:

As the leading publisher in the optics and photonics industry for more than 60 years, Laurin Publishing/Photonics Media is known for producing the periodicals, books and reference materials that industry professionals read and refer to throughout their careers. Now, through Photonics Media Press, we are building an exciting book and reference collection for the next generation of industry experts. Photonics Media Press serves an audience of scientists, engineers, marketers and others in the global photonics industry and its growing application areas.

The New Collar Workforce is available for order now from Photonics Media Press at

The New Collar Workforce
An Insider’s Guide to Making Impactful Change in Manufacturing and Training
Published by Photonics Media Press/Laurin Publishing Co. 2017
$34.95 softcover
ISBN 978-0-9988539-9-4
$44.95 hardcover
ISBN 978-0-9988539-8-7