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Mind the Skills Gap

Posted by Bob Graff on Jan 11, 2016 5:28:19 AM

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Part of Charles Speelman’s job is connecting students and employers. But Speelman isn’t a recruiter; he’s an educator. Three years ago, as superintendent of Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion, Ohio, Speelman was getting calls from companies saying that there weren’t enough skilled workers entering the trades, especially manufacturing. So, Speelman (with an approximately $15-million “Straight A Grant” from Ohio) launched the Robotics & Advanced Manufacturing Technology Education Collaborative, known as RAMTEC. Students at RAMTEC get to work with and learn about the same machines and tools used by many manufacturers.

Speelman and RAMTEC are helping industry meet its ongoing need for skilled labor. Educators like Speelman ask companies where the gaps lie. When companies explain their needs, they often talk about teaching students and about the machines they’ll encounter in the workforce.

That’s how Yaskawa Motoman became involved with RAMTEC. Speelman asked for our input on curriculum once his team learned that many employers owned Yaskawa robots. There is basic know-how that schools must teach students about STEM. Beyond that, though, employers want graduates who have an industrial robotic certification for the equipment they’ll encounter on the job.

When Speelman came to us for help with a robotics curriculum, we jumped at the chance to develop a template. We created a robotics curriculum that offered industry-level instruction and certifications for the undergraduates living in and near Marion, as well as high schoolers headed to vocational schools. Once RAMTEC students complete the robotics curriculum, companies looking for people with skills in troubleshooting, maintenance, modeling, virtualization and more have workers who can be productive on day one at their new job. The students can easily extend what they’ve learned to other technologies like machining and 3D printing, too.

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Students at Tri-Rivers Career Center / RAMTEC demonstrate a Motoman education cell to Tom Vander Ark, an education advocate, advisor and author.
 

Beyond preparing bright students for roles with terrific companies, there’s been an interesting by-product from our cooperation with RAMTEC. Yaskawa Motoman develops and provides educational solutions for schools. These solutions include curriculum and STEM robotics education cells, which we place on wheeled carts. Although the first generation of these carts worked well, our school partners eventually asked for changes.

As we considered the best approach to redesign the carts, we decided to give it to RAMTEC as a project. We asked their students studying modeling to design a next-generation robotics education cart. They eagerly took the challenge and presented three designs, including drawings and models for each. The students’ work was terrific. We took the winning design back to our engineers and asked them to use the design to produce the next iteration of our cart. Educators and students are now using this redesigned robotic cart, the STEM GEN-II Robotics Platform, at schools all around the country.

The workforce development partnership between Yaskawa Motoman and RAMTEC is a win-win for industry and education because it provides the best in robotics class curriculum and teaching tools to help advance career paths for the next generation of industrial automation workers. Everyone benefits. And along with producing a great workforce, the partnership between schools and industry may even develop a new product or two.

 

Bob Graff is Senior Sales Manager, Education at Yaskawa America Inc. - Motoman Robotics Division

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Topics: Education and Training

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