By Gareth Sleger
Since its earliest inception in the early 19th century, the bicycle has long been a symbol of progress, helping to advance
transportation, technology, health, environmentalism, and even human rights movements
throughout its more than 200-year history.
Now in 2019, the bicycle will do its part in
helping the manufacturing industry progress
through a mounting skills gap. That’s the hope
of Minnesota State College Southeast anyway.
This fall MSC Southeast will launch its one-of-a-kind Bicycle Design & Fabrication program
on its Red Wing campus, o;ering students a
chance to learn advanced manufacturing and
engineering skills while earning 60 credits toward a two-year Associate of Applied Science
(AAS) degree. Early enrollees to the program
began fulfilling general education courses this
The program, which is also the first of its kind
worldwide, is the brainchild of Travis Thul, dean
of trade and technology at MSC Southeast. And
to Thul, the bicycle can be a much-needed step
to help bridge the ever-growing gap between
manufacturer employment needs and the lack-
ing skills in today’s workforce.
“When you look at the modern bicycle, it’s
this convergence of engineering and manufac-
turing competencies,” said Thul. “And it’s all
rolled into an application that just about every
human being is intimately familiar with on a me-
chanical level. We all know that if you push on
that pedal, you’re going to drive a chain that’s
going to move your tire and propel you for-
The Bicycle Design & Fabrication program
will comprise hands-on lab courses that teach a
combination of traditional and advanced manu-
facturing methods, including welding and ma-
chining, metallurgy, working with composites,
mechanical design, CAD drafting, rapid proto-
typing, statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, and
But even with all the multifaceted mechanical and engineering components needed to
produce a bicycle, it’s quite possibly the most
relatable of any complex machine.
“So much of the knowledge needed for machining and mechanical design can be learned
by building a bicycle,” Thul said. “It’s an application that everybody can empathize with, understand, and feel a connection with.”
Manufacturing for Gen Z
One connection MSC Southeast and Thul are
hoping to make is with the Holy Grail of demo-
graphics: Generation Z, a group of 61 million born
after 1996 that is estimated to take over millenni-
als as the most populous generation in 2019.
Besides the obvious reason that millions of the
newest generation are currently in or approach-
ing the higher-education stage, there’s also the
glaring fact of the massive estrangement be-
tween Gen Zers and the manufacturing industry.
And with recent U.S. Census Bureau data indi-
cating that 20 percent of Gen Zers will enter the
workforce within the next two years, the waning
interest is a concerning trend for manufactur-
ing, including the metalworking sectors. Many
studies show how more than 2 million manu-
facturing jobs will go unfilled by 2025 as baby
boomers continue to retire across the industry.
The same is true in the U.K. A 2018 survey by
Barclays Corporate Banking shows that only 6
percent of British Gen Zers are considering a
career in manufacturing. Companies and indus-
try leaders in the U.S. and U.K. alike are clam-
oring to engage with the generation. Through
partnerships with trade and technical schools,
manufacturers and fabricators are touting ca-
reer training programs with advanced technol-
ogy with automation, robotics, and 3D printing.
But training—on both the trade/technical
school level and the continued career develop-
ment level—still needs improvement to over-
come the mounting skills gap, said Jeannine
Kunz, vice president of Tooling U-SME, which
released a 2018 study looking at training prac-
tices within the U.S. manufacturing workforce.
“Around only one-third of manufacturers
budget for training,” said Kunz. “You kind of
start to get the sense that it’s still not a top priority. Companies seem to recognize the importance, yet they’re not completely acting on it.
I’ve called it ‘the execution gap.’ Meaning, we’re
not doing enough about it. And so we’ve got a
skills gap, but we also have an execution gap.”
New bicycle fabrication, engineering program at Minnesota
college aims to spark interest in manufacturing, bridge skills gap
» Minnesota State College Southeast’s Bicycle Design &
Fabrication program will teach students, among other
manufacturing means, how to use metal fabrication
and welding methods to create a bike frame. Photo
provided by Travis Thul.
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