By now, most everyone in industry is familiar with the growing manufacturing skills gap; Deloitte estimates that 2.4 million manufacturing positions could remain unfilled over the next decade as a result of this gap. In response, manufacturers, local and state governments, and educational institutions are coming together to help minimize this problem.
Public-private partnerships in which local and state governments provide grant funding and private corporations donate equipment for students to train on have become a popular model. Developing training programs this way ensures that the financial burden is distributed among all stakeholders, and that students come away with hands-on knowledge of the equipment they will be working with in industry.
Until recently, these programs have largely been limited to post-secondary training provided via community and technical colleges. To expand the pipeline of applicants seeking to enter these programs and better address the skills gap issue, many are turning to pre-apprenticeship programs at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
According to Apprenticeship.gov, a pre-apprenticeship program is defined as a program or set of strategies designed to prepare individuals to enter and succeed in a registered apprenticeship program at a later date. These pre-apprenticeship programs allow employers to save time and money by providing ready-to-work employees whose ability to perform the work needed has already been verified.
An example of this can be seen in Ohio where Kings High School in Warren County and Goshen High School in Clermont County recently became the first beneficiaries of a workforce development grant distributed by Easterseals, a Cincinnati non-profit focused on improving workplace access. The grant aims to form pre-apprenticeship programs focused on preparing students for careers in smart manufacturing. The high schools are collaborating with Festo Didactic as they begin to place students in the programs.
Festo’s pre-apprenticeship program is structured to introduce students to modern day smart manufacturing processes with an emphasis on hands-on exposure to bionics and robotics. In this program, students are taught beginner-level engineering concepts in pneumatics and mechatronics. Students engage in both textbook-based learning and hands-on laboratory exercises that require them to work with Internet of Things hardware and common industrial software systems.
Classes are held at Festo’s Regional Service Center in Mason, Ohio, a 47-acre logistics and manufacturing plant. The Regional Service Center also serves as the home of Festo’s Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program. Festo plans to expand its learning center into a larger Industry 4.0 Experience Center to further accelerate the process of closing the industrial skills gap.
"In order to be prepared for today's world of work, students need exposure to project-based learning and real world problem-solving. The pre-apprenticeship program at Festo has provided Kings High School students that opportunity," said Chris Griffin, school counselor and men’s cross-country coach at Kings High School. “Festo's program offers our students opportunities to leverage manufacturing software with an eye towards creativity and innovation."