Last week, Festo Didactic Learning Systems North America and its partners gathered to announce new plans for the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP) at its Regional Service Center (RSC) in Mason, Ohio. Industry, education, and government came together to strengthen workforce development for Industry 4.0 careers. Guest speakers included representatives from the Lt. Governor’s office and ApprenticeOhio, and the event was attended by local manufacturing companies as well as former and current apprentices.
At its core, MAP supports manufacturers locally and nationally in training and retaining skilled workers. Heading into its sixth year, MAP will begin accepting apprenticeships on a rolling admission basis instead of a semester schedule to help meet the more urgent needs of industry in a quicker fashion, said multiple Festo representatives. The program will consist of 57 weeks of training instead of five semesters. This transition will allow for more apprentices to enroll faster, train faster, and get to work faster.
Classes will be held at Festo’s Regional Service Center, a 47-acre state-of-the-art logistics and manufacturing plant that provides automation technology serving all of North America. The plant opened in 2015 and is among the 15 largest employers in Mason. The RSC serves as the home base for Festo’s Learning Center. MAP launched in 2016, and four years later it earned the Best in Ohio Business Award in the Workforce Development Program category.
At the Festo Learning Center, a full-scale Industry 4.0 Experience Center is also in the works. The new center and showroom are aimed at closing the STEM skills gap by bringing technical education, industrial applications and actual manufacturing all under one roof. The Experience Center will house the latest in Festo technology from networked cyber-physical stations to factory robots, assembly components, supply chain innovation and more. Educators, students and workers at all levels are encouraged to visit and speak with Festo experts about career programs, learning solutions and workforce development for industrial companies and the classroom alike.
The new Learning Center is part of a greater expansion to the Festo Mason facility, which has about tripled in size over the last 5 years and has more than doubled employees to about 305 people, with several of them being former Festo Didactic apprentices. The facility is home to its Festo Global Production Center (GPC), the designation for the company’s most advanced automated manufacturing facilities, said Sean O’Grady, Director of Sales Operations. The expanded facility will include a much larger R&D department in the future, he said. Currently, 10 R&D engineers call Mason home but he said there will be upwards of 50 in the next year or two as that R&D lab is rebuilt and expanded.
Karolyn Ellingson, Head of Industrial Workforce Development for Festo Didactic, said the new program was designed to build on the momentum of apprenticeships, particularly in Ohio, which is ranked third behind California and Texas for its apprenticeship programs.
“It is a proven model to get employees and it does add that loyalty to employees. They feel valued when they’ve been invested in,” Ellingson said.
Festo Didactic has open enrollment in different industrial areas, such as AC/DC circuits, pneumatics, PLCs, hydraulics, troubleshooting, and more. “The difference, too is we’re not just training on Festo products. We realize, for example, that Siemens and Allen-Bradley, those are the leaders in the PLC world right now, so we’re training in that actual technology,” Ellingson said.
O’Grady added that the training labs are modular. The curriculum builds on itself — the trainers may be focusing first on fluid power training but electrics is there as well. “As you’re learning fluid power content, you’re also learning how to integrate those into the control system,” O’Grady said. “You’re hands-on with real industrial technology everyday from the first day of class.”
Classes can be held in Festo’s hands-on labs or on-site at others’ facilities, where they bring the training equipment, instructors, and materials. They are offered in multiple-shift schedules to provide the flexibility manufacturers need.
Ellingson said Festo Didactic redesigned the program because companies have indicated that they can’t have employees gone two days a week but also needed their skills development done faster. “It is based on knowledge skills and abilities. We want them to have the technical training faster, the skills to do the job faster and the ability to do it competently through our apprenticeship program.”
Tony Oran, VP of Festo Didactic North America, highlighted the urgency to have bring together skilled workers with automation technologies. “We look at the skills gap locally — the North American Manufacturing Association says that by 2030, we’ll have 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs in our country. There’s roughly 1,500 technical colleges, and if all 1,500 turn out an additional 100 technicians, we still don’t even come close to filling that 2.1 million. And I was in Canada the last two weeks and … Canada has the same exact number, 2.1 million unfilled and they have roughly a third of our population, so it’s an even bigger problem in Canada.”
Oran compared technology to a person running across the room, while training is moving at a slow walk, with frequent stops. “The gap is getting wider,” he said. “So when we talk about speed in our program, we did significantly reduce the time of the program and we do have flexibility to adapt even more so depending on your individual needs.”
Oran said Ohio worked with Festo to open the Mason facility to grow in Ohio, but more importantly, to help build a workforce. “My wife has often said this about raising children — it takes a village,” Oran said. “It’s going to take a village to close this skills gap, so we very much look forward to working with employers in the area, to try to figure out how do we solve this problem.”
Former apprentice Kenneth Bibb offered some insight into the program, saying how he started right out of high school, and was being paid to build the systems that he learned on. He’s now a Solution Center Automation Technician for Festo Didactic.
“Festo’s side of the apprenticeship provided an affordable, unique, hands-on approach to learning mechatronics. This program taught me the very basics of electrical power up to advanced industrial troubleshooting,” said Bibb. “I was able to gain more learning and experience with Festo than I would have in a traditional four-year university. Festo has set my life up perfectly by providing the skills I needed through the apprenticeship to begin a successful Mechatronics Engineering career.”
The award-winning mechatronics program has been a growing collaboration among Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, E-Beam, MQ Automation, Nestlé, Festo Didactic, and others.
“Ohio currently ranks third nationally for the number of apprentices and first in the Midwest,” said Lt. Governor Jon Husted. “As employers are facing pressing workforce challenges, they are increasingly turning to apprenticeships to find talent and students are finding the earn-while-you-learn model without racking up student loan debt very rewarding. It’s a win-win.”
In January 2020, Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill into law earmarking $17.5 million per year for businesses that pay for employees to upgrade their technology skills. Through Ohio’s TechCred program, the state will reimburse up to $2,000 per employee and up to $30,000 per employer when a company pays for a current or prospective employee to earn an industry-recognized credential in technology-focused programs like MAP. The next TechCred application opens on November 1, 2022, and will close on November 30, 2022, at 3:00pm EST.
Nationwide, apprenticeship continues to experience strong growth. On September 1, 2022 the White House launched the Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative—a national network of more than 200 employers and other organizations who signed on to create almost 500 hundred new registered apprenticeship programs. Through the new federal initiative, companies agreed to build new programs across a wide range of industries and to hire 10,000 new apprentices in the coming year. The Department of Labor also announced plans to invest over $330 million through grants to states, employers, labor organizations, and workforce intermediaries to expand and diversify Registered Apprenticeships.
According to apprenticeship.gov, managed by the Department of Labor (DoL), 93% of apprentices who complete an apprenticeship retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000. By DoL’s definition, “Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally-recognized credential.” Additionally, DoL case studies have shown that pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs can attract more diverse candidates, including women and people of color, and increase employment of disabled workers.
“Manufacturing workers must be tech savvy with well-rounded skills in today’s industrial job market,” said Oran. “It used to be that coding and software design knowledge were skill sets mainly associated with office jobs but now they’re an integral part of modern factory life. With some of the most exciting innovations in advanced manufacturing taking place here in Ohio, our job, along with our partners in industry, education and government is to remove obstacles and introduce students to these promising career pathways.”
Festo’s Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP) is designed to introduce individuals to modern day smart manufacturing. MAP prioritizes hands-on, experiential learning that exposes students to the wide array of advanced technologies that support modern manufacturing operations such as electricity, programming, robotics, fluid power and troubleshooting. Apprentices receive a comprehensive learning experience in the classroom with hybrid learning, then head to the lab to apply their knowledge hands-on with IIoT hardware and software systems (30% lecture and theory, 70% hands-on learning). The apprentices receive on-the-job training at their employer company four days per week, while one day per week is spent in the classroom and in the lab at Festo’s state-of-the-art training facility. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a Department of Labor Certificate and a Certificate of Completion from Festo.
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