In the past, advanced manufacturing workers in West Michigan that wanted to get certified in specialized training for robotics programming had to travel to Rochester Hills, Chicago or Ohio. For employers, that equated to an expensive proposition.
Officials at the Ottawa County Intermediate School District saw a chance to help out local manufacturers that have been struggling to find talent, so the ISD partnered with FANUC Robotics of America to offer the company’s certified robotic training program in West Michigan.
“Last fall I realized there has been not only a skills gap in the employees, but also a training gap in the local area for the industries,” said Doug Bagley, business development Coordinator for Thompson M-TEC, the adult training and certification arm of the ISD.
Through interviews with company owners, plant managers and HR Directors at companies including Gentex, Haworth and Herman Miller, Bagley found that the majority of the employees were being sent out of the region for training.
“The potential savings to the industries in West Michigan can be in the thousands of dollars per employee by eliminating employee downtime, travel expenses, and higher tuition expenses associated with the other classes available,” he said.
North American robotics companies sold more industrial robots in the second quarter of 2012 than any previous quarter in history, according to a report from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.
A total of 5,556 robots valued at $403.1 million were sold to North American companies, a jump of 14 percent in units and 28 percent in dollars over the same quarter in 2011, a recent report stated. Orders in the first half of 2012 totaled 10,652 robots valued at $747 million, increases of 20 percent in units and 29 percent in dollars over the same period last year, the report continued.
RIA estimates that some 220,000 robots are now used in the United States, placing the U.S. second only to Japan in robot use.
Bagley said companies could spend more than $3,000 sending a single worker for training on the east side of the state or elsewhere. In contrast, tuition costs just $600 for the training program in Holland. Not only is the new program a cost-saver for companies, there is a convenience factor for trainees to stay close to home, Bagley added.
The program is also condensed to 15 weeks, allowing those who can’t commit to an 18-month career-training academy at a community college to have the opportunity get the training they need.
In May 2012, the ISD’s board approved the initiative to partner with FANUC Robotics to help bridge the training gap for employers in advanced manufacturing sectors who were looking for qualified talent. The first cohort of 10 workers starts Sept. 10.
Prior to implementing the program, Bagley and five other instructors spent time at Ferris State University learning how to put a curriculum together and identifying the resources it would take to maintain the program.
“With M-TEC we were able to put the program together more quickly and didn’t have to jump through many of the same hoops that high schools and colleges have to,” Bagley said. “At that level, there are more regulations, funding issues and accreditation boards to go through.”
Individuals completing the training should have a leg up in landing jobs in advanced manufacturing involving robotic automation, he said. Ideally, they’d also stay in Michigan where there is a need for workers with those skills, he added.
Through integrated classroom instruction, student projects, and RoboGuide simulation software, students are able to apply science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills while utilizing the latest automation technology, he said.
Classes start with robotic operation, programming and handling tool training. The program takes place on Monday evenings from 4-7 p.m. for 15 weeks. Students receive a Thompson M-TEC certificate of completion with a FANUC Certified Robot Programmer endorsement upon completion.
“This program fills a need here in West Michigan,” Bagley said. “Part of the hope is that this bumps up the recognition of the region in high-skill, high-wage job education.”