A skills gap that could leave as many as 2 million manufacturing jobs unfilled by 2025 is one of the driving forces behind a new Clemson University program that for the first time matches graduate students with technical college students on an assembly line built for research.

Laine Mears, the BMW SmartState Chair in Automotive Manufacturing at Clemson, said the THINKER team will be creating a new national model for graduate education.

"We do that by putting students into a manufacturing environment and teaching them how people and technology work together and how new technologies can emerge to support that vision," he said.

The impact could quickly ripple through the broader regional economy.

The idea is to recreate the dynamics that come into play when researchers, engineers and technicians collaborate on projects in actual factories.

The teams will focus their research on connecting human workers and internet-connected machines that are often loaded with sensors and generating massive amounts of data.

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