Though any emerging industry faces its fair share of hurdles, perhaps the biggest challenge across the additive manufacturing industry today is overcoming the skills gap. As a complex and multifaceted technology, additive manufacturing requires extensive know-how to not only operate but to sell, implement and grow in various industrial areas.
There are a number of efforts to bridge the skills gap in the 3D printing segment, with universities developing and offering courses dedicated to AM and an increasing number of training courses. Future generations will likely be more literate in the additive process, thanks to in-school 3D printer lessons and curriculum, which down the line will help to shrink the skills gap. But still, the job market today is affected by the reality that as the additive industry is growing, there are not enough specialists to fill positions.
This notion has formed the basis of i-AMdigital, a Netherlands-based startup founded by AM recruitment specialists Juan Miguel Ramirez and Nick Pearce, in a joint venture with Dutch tech consulting firm TES Network. The idea, first conceived in 2017, launched earlier this year as an online platform that acts as a sort of sophisticated job board specifically for the additive manufacturing industry. The platform not only helps to find the right people for the job but also helps to grow the overall talent pool in AM through online courses and curriculum.
We recently spoke to Ramirez about the new i-AMdigital platform and how it aims to radically change the recruitment and training landscape in the emerging additive manufacturing sector.
Headhunting in AM
“Five years ago, I was working in the UK with Nick [Pearce] in recruitment and headhunting for the solar energy sector, but we were both passionate about 3D printing,” the i-AMdigital co-founder tells us. “We thought we should explore 3D printing, so I put together a list of 100 companies in 3D printing and I spoke to many of them, asking what the main challenges they were facing were. They often highlighted the speed of the 3D printers, the materials and software limitations, but they also kept repeating that they needed talent.”
These insights led Ramirez and Pearce to found Alexander Daniels Global, a recruitment company specialized in 3D printing, four years ago. Today, ADG has offices around the globe, in Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Still, there was a need for talent that just wasn’t really there.
As Ramirez explains: “Two years ago at Formnext, we were talking to our clients and they were telling us that while we were doing a great job, there were still not enough professionals in 3D printing to fill all the positions in the industry. At that point, we started researching how we could grow the talent pool, and that’s where we came up with the i-AMdigital concept.
“i-AMdigital is an intelligent platform that connects talent with companies and opportunities to grow their career. At the same time, if they want to learn and develop their experience, it provides a marketplace with all the best courses in additive manufacturing from highly respected providers.”
The current version of the i-AMdigital platform reflects the beginnings of a much larger and incredibly ambitious project. Ramirez envisions i-AMdigital becoming a centralized and intelligent platform for the AM industry and, eventually, the advanced manufacturing industry on the whole.
Still, the platform’s current iteration offers a number of useful tools, including an in-depth job board—which provides talent with detailed information about available positions and the companies that are offering them—as well as a marketplace for 3D printing training courses, and content addressing various 3D printing verticals.
“At the moment, this is a marketplace for training and 3D printing jobs,” i-AMdigital’s co-founder explains. “One of the comments we were hearing from talent was that the training landscape in 3D printing is very fragmented, so having this marketplace is super useful. There was also feedback that informal training is very expensive: there are courses between $70 and $5,000, but it is difficult to know exactly what course to choose to help grow a career. We want to create a platform that guides users through intelligent matching to the right courses as well as to develop a curriculum that is affordable for everybody and to grow the talent pool without barriers.
“Our intention in the medium term is to create our own certificate. We are in the process of developing a curriculum, with partners, that will combine theory with practical tasks. We believe that true learning is only achieved through experience and importantly failure. Our approach will be to teach, try, fail/succeed, then apply. This means that as part of our certificate students will be required to actually apply their knowledge, either through a short work experience/internship or in their profession.”
When talent signs up for the i-AMdigital platform, they must provide detailed information not only about their past education and job experiences, but also about their aspirations and motivations. This insight means that the platform can suggest relevant job postings as well as training courses to help users attain their professional goals. Down the line, this feature will become increasingly sophisticated, acting as a sort of digital career mentor.
“We are developing a career mentor,” Ramirez elaborates. “In addition to showing detailed information about listed positions and companies—including female to male ratio, average age, what a week in the job would look like—we also want to show candidates what their percentage fit is for the job. Maybe that position will be a 70% fit and in order for it to be 95%, it will suggest learning or freelancing opportunities.
“For companies, this is also beneficial because most of the time, HR teams aren’t specialized in 3D printing. They know about HR and soft skills but not about the technical skills for AM. So if you have a platform that tells you the percentage fit in terms of experience in 3D printing and motivations, that helps the HR team be much more productive. Companies are really interested in this functionality that we’re building.”
So far, i-AMdigital has already established partnerships with some influential companies in the additive manufacturing industry, including HP, Formlabs, EOS, MakerBot, ASTM International and DyeMansion. Unlike more standardized job posting platforms, i-AMdigital provides these companies with a unique way to engage with talent, providing in-depth information about the company’s values, mission, work ethos and more.
“What is also interesting for companies is the company page,” Ramirez says. “Normally, the way they attract talent is through the job opportunity. Our job board, however, is very different. Companies share important data, including their vision and mission, but also case studies. So talent will look and see if they like the company based on all this information and then will look at potential opportunities there. It’s another way to engage talent in 3D printing.”
“If companies want to work with us and our community to attract talent, then it’s very important that they share all this data with us. Otherwise we will be like any other job board. This is a very tailored and personalized solution for 3D printing.”
Presently, i-AMdigital is currently in talks with about nine other companies, and hopes its platform will attract companies from across the global AM industry.
“Before we had the platform, we were talking about bringing the whole industry on board, and people said that was impossible,” Ramirez says about the variety of companies i-AMdigital hopes to work with. “People thought that because companies are competing with each other, that they wouldn’t agree to be on the same platform. They said that EOS and HP wouldn’t join the same platform and yet, we have them here. This is not a platform for a certain amount of employers, it’s for the whole industry.”
Finding the talent
At Alexander Daniels Global, recruitment was largely centered on higher up, leadership positions within the additive manufacturing industry, which—while useful—did not address more systemic problems in the industry, namely, lack of skills.
“For the last four years, people came to us from other industries and we couldn’t really help them,” Ramirez explains. “The companies we were working with were hiring higher level positions, so it was difficult for us to help at an entry level in 3D printing. That’s why we decided to create this platform, so that anyone can get into 3D printing.”
“This platform is for professionals in AM, for professionals from other industries with transferable skills, like CNC Machining, for graduates and for makers. We are the bridge for these people. And the platform is free for talent.”
Closing the skills gap
Talking about the most notable skills gaps in the industry, Ramirez highlights a few areas. In AM’s sales and marketing, for instance, there is a skills gap in knowledge of the technology. Companies face challenges with selling their systems through resellers that might not be specialized in the specific technology, so training courses to address this are needed.
“In service engineering,” he continues, “the professionals fixing and troubleshooting the machines find it difficult to have access to the skills and expertise required. The only way you can know how to fix and troubleshoot a 3D printer is by working with the manufacturer.
“But the main skills gap is in design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) and in application engineering. You need to have an applications engineer that knows the particular printer being used and that understands your company to develop applications. And for engineers, it’s very important to also have a designer that knows how to design for AM. These two disciplines, design and applications, are where we’ve found the main skills gap to be, and they will come to define the future of the industry.”
In the rapidly evolving additive manufacturing industry, it is also necessary for those working in the industry to update and refresh their knowledge. Even for an AM veteran, certain training courses could be of use to keep up-to-date with the technology and its growing applications.
Overall, by offering first a marketplace of training courses and eventually a comprehensive and professional AM curriculum, i-AMdigital aims to grow and strengthen the 3D printing talent pool, helping job seekers and employers to keep up with the ever advancing industry.