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Headquarters Report - July 2014

By Edward P. Salek, Executive Director and CAE

Talent shortage rated No. 1 concern

GSTLE scholarship programs can provide some relief, but what else is possible?

In an extensive research report to be released this month, STLE asked nearly 1,000 participants about their concerns for the future of the tribology and lubricants business. Many of the issues cited were not surprising. Lack of research funding, government regulation and cost of materials all were singled out as substantial business concerns or threats.

But while these issues are challenging, they are not viewed as the biggest obstacle standing in the way of future success for STLE member companies and institutions. The ability to attract talented and educated workers, especially young people, was cited by an almost startling 95 percent of survey respondents as the most widely felt threat to the industry’s future.

One survey respondent summarized the problem as, “Finding people who have a passion for the industry. Young people should be encouraged to study and start a career in the lubricant industry.”

Emerging Issues and Trends in Tribology and Lubrication Engineering is the full name of the report, which is based on a multiphase research effort to evaluate current trends and to predict future developments impacting the field. Information provided in this report captures the expertise of professional and academic-based tribologists and lubrication engineers worldwide.  It is organized into sections pertaining to major categories where tribology and lubrication engineering play a major role (e.g., transportation, energy).

While the impending talent shortage rose to the top of industry concerns for 2014 and beyond, encouraging young people “to study and start a career in the lubricant industry” is not a new topic for STLE. For example, STLE has funded a scholarship and fellowship awards program for more than 25 years. The society currently invests $25,000 per year in the scholarship and fellowship program, plus another $5,000 in a student poster competition.

The two showcase programs are the E. Richard Booser Scholarship for undergraduate students ($4,500 per year) and the E. Elmer Klaus Fellowship for graduate students ($5,500 per year). The society also works through its local sections to provide funds to students entering or enrolled in a college-level program with an emphasis on engineering, science and technology. A $15,000 matching fund pool is allocated on a proportional basis among each of the sections funding a local scholarship program.

In May 2014, the STLE Presidential Council, comprised of former presidents of the organization, began an initiative to expand on these efforts by recommending creation of a tribology and lubricants “Future Focus” program. The goal is to study and support workforce development needs in the tribology and lubricants field. The project will combine existing student scholarship programs with several other planned initiatives. Target launch date for the program is early 2015.

While the goal and the time schedule are ambitious, there are building blocks available. The society’s academic community currently includes nearly 600 educators and 3,000 students in the U.S. (about 42 percent of the total) and 70 other countries around the globe. STLE has student chapters at five universities.

We will also be turning to the society’s corporate member community of more than 200 companies for program leadership, development advice and financial support. This segment of the membership already has enthusiastically embraced STLE’s Annual Meeting STEM Camp program targeting high school students, which has been conducted for the past two years.

Much more work is needed to fill the technical talent gap in the lubricants business.  Consequently, STLE’s Board of Directors, as part of its strategic plan for the society, has designated student outreach programs as a major initiative. 

Companies and individuals with ideas and resources are welcome to join in the campaign.  The best way to inspire a future workforce is for the current participants to show some passion in making the case for a career in the tribology and lubricants businesss.

You can reach Certified Association Executive Ed Salek at esalek@stle.org.
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