Festo Didactic, Sinclair Community College and five companies in the Cincinnati tri-state area (Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, Festo Inc., MQ Automation, Nestlé) recently created a two-year Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program to help employers develop the skills that are missing in the workforce today by combining theoretical education, hands-on training, and on the job training.
The apprenticeship is designed to help individuals learn advanced manufacturing skills as well as earn an associate’s degree in mechatronics. The first cohort of the program includes 11 apprentices who are training for careers as maintenance technicians, automation specialists, service technicians, and manufacturing technicians.
Building off a German model
The program uses the German apprenticeship model of dual education, where apprentices learn in a classroom and maintain a steady job. Every week each apprentice spends one day at Sinclair Community College for classes, one day using state-of-the-art equipment at the new Festo Learning Center in Mason, and three days working at their respective employers. The apprentices are able to take what they learn in class, practice it at the Festo Learning Center, and then use that new knowledge and skill in a real-life work environment. “In terms of educational modality, the apprenticeship model couldn’t be a better fit for manufacturing,” says Vice President for Regional Centers at Sinclair Community College Scott Markland.
The Festo Learning Center is a unique part of the program. The Center is designed to meet international standards for production facilities and labs. It provides the apprentices a training facility where they can work with instructors on high-end Festo workstations that simulate a work environment and corresponds to their classroom curriculum.
Collaboration to address the skills gap
The idea for the apprenticeship program was born out of a need for highly-skilled workers in the Cincinnati area, an established hub for manufacturing. As advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 grow in the area, employers are increasingly looking for mechanical aptitude, skills in automation, the ability to read code and program machines, and electrical skills as well as problem solving and critical thinking skills. “Technology is evolving quickly,” says Jennifer Paine, Site Management Lead at Nestlé. “For us this is about a commitment to our employees, to train them in the skills they need and to advance their skill set to make our company more competitive.”
Based on the need from employers and a shared vision to ensure more people receive the training and education needed for today’s manufacturing jobs, the partners formed the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program Partners collaborative. The partners worked together to identify the needs of employers and adapt an existing curriculum at Sinclair Community College accordingly, in order to solve both the educational needs and the workforce needs of the community. “We were hearing from local employers about these needs, but we felt like individually we may not have all the pieces to do it alone but it was something we could collaborate on based on our common vision,” says Scott Markland.
Apprentices with bright futures
The program gives the apprentices an advantage in the workforce. Unlike students who are only earning an associate’s degree, the mechatronics apprentices are gaining the knowledge and skills they need as well as getting practical experience. “We must continue to find ways to train students in the skills and knowledge they need for today and tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs. Apprenticeship programs like this, help make sure students get that training early,” says Thomas Lichtenberger, President at Festo Didactic North America.
For one apprentice it’s about recognizing what is happening in the rest of the world and getting a jump start on his competition. “This is the future of maintenance tech. The more I talk to people in this field the more I see how it is big over in Europe and it’s coming this way. You get in on the ground floor and you’ll be set,” says Nathan Gledhill, a mechatronics apprentice and Nestlé employee.
Festo AG is a global player and an independent family-owned company with headquarters in Esslingen near Stuttgart, Germany. The company supplies pneumatic and electrical automation technology to 300,000 customers of factory and process automation in over 40 industries. The products and services are available in 176 countries. With about 18.700 employees in over 250 branch offices in 61 countries worldwide, the company achieved a turnover of around €2.64 billion in 2015. Each year around 8 % of this turnover is invested in research and development.
In this learning company, 1.5 % of turnover is invested in basic and further training. Yet training services are not only provided for Festo's own staff – Festo Didactic SE also supplies basic and further training programmes in the field of automation technology for customers, students and trainees.
About Festo Didactic
Festo Didactic is a leading provider of technical education equipment and training. Festo’s educational solutions evolved from its world-class automation and engineering division and integrates the latest trends in each learning system it offers. The innovative product range from Festo allows educators and trainers to equip their classroom with the technology they need, from individual workstations to complete Learning Factories, as well as training and consulting, eLearning, courseware solutions, and LMS integration. For more information visit http://www.festo-didactic.com/int-en/