PENDLETON — Most of the 200 attendees at the recent international Automation Conference 2014 are facing the same day-to-day challenge – finding and hiring individuals with 21st century workplace skills.
They were eager to hear how Tri-County Technical College’s collaboration with industry leaders on curriculum changes and developing work-based learning opportunities, like scholars programs, co-ops, internships and apprenticeships, have been the key to producing work-ready graduates.
Cheryl Garrison, job placement coordinator in Career Services, joined Industrial Electronics Technology faculty member Shan Smith, Schneider Electric Engineering Manager Ted Stokes and Doug Wilson, senior associate development specialist at Bosch, as presenters at the Automation Conference 2014 held May 20 through May 22 in Chicago, Ill.
The team’s topic was “Bridging the Skills Gap: Enhancing the Talent Pipeline through Local Technical College Collaboration.” They shared best practices for creating a pipeline of highly skilled employees through collaboration with local industry.
Since 2012 Garrison has seen a 365 percent increase in the number of companies participating in work-based learning opportunities at Tri-County Technical College.
In October 2012, there were 26 Tri-County students involved in work -based learning experiences at six companies in the College’s service area. Just 18 months later, there are nearly 100 students this year placed at 28 companies and growing.
“We presented proven ways to fill the skills gaps, which is a national problem,” said Smith, who is program coordinator for Industrial Electronics Technology at the College. “We don’t have all the solutions but collaboration and direct communication with industry partners, such as BMW, Bosch and Schneider Electric, inform us as to what they need, so we can create a program of study and produce job candidates who can go out and fill these positions.
“Co-ops help students to develop a realistic expectation of industry,” added Smith, who takes students on tours of local industries so they can observe operations on the plant floor. “It gives them a goal to aspire to while dispelling the myths about the work in industry being a dirty job. They see that the work is challenging and that associates are learning and growing every day. Working in advanced manufacturing requires highly skilled individuals.”
“Don’t wait for your community college to come to you,” Garrison advised the conference attendees. “Get engaged. Serve on your local college’s advisory committees, teach as an adjunct instructor. Make an investment in your community college.”
To be successful in finding and growing new technical employees, a college must have a symbiotic relationship with industry, both agreed.
“Everybody is struggling to find technicians,” said Wilson, who last year worked with Tri-County to design, launch and lead the Bosch Technical Scholars program.
A 1991 Electronics Engineering Technology graduate of Tri-County and senior associate development specialist at Bosch’s Anderson plant, Wilson spent the past year implementing a scholars program targeting Tri-County students enrolled in their last semester of Industrial Electronics or Mechatronics Technology.
The program helps students to adapt to their workplaces more quickly by getting hands-on experience in various areas of the manufacturing process, introducing them to departmental colleagues and their job functions, and providing an overview of policies and procedures, as well as an understanding of plant protocol.
“We’re getting ready-made technicians who will feel engaged right from the beginning, and therefore have a personal and professional investment in the company,” said Wilson.
Stokes has taught evening classes in the Industrial Electronics Technology (IET) program for 17 years and has served on the IET Advisory Committee for more than 15 years.
For Stokes, teaching evening classes is a way to give back — to help students discover their talents and hone their skills, as former instructors and colleagues did for him when he started his career.
“I enjoy the contact with people and giving back by sharing the lessons I’ve learned working in industry over the years,” he said. “I know the value of hands-on experience and the practical and theoretical knowledge the students gain. This equips them for the real-world jobs at places like Schneider Electric.”
Stokes said he tries to teach the technical and soft skills required to be a good employee.
“That includes being on time, having good attendance, the right attitude and good work habits,” he said. “They also must be able to work in diverse teams, each person doing his or her part to work toward a common goal. You must be a lifelong learner in today’s technical world, always seeking knowledge and keeping up with the latest developments.”
Following the presentation, the team spent the afternoon fielding questions from attendees.
“We didn’t make it out of the room before we were bombarded with questions about how to start a program like this. We told them to work with their local technical and community colleges to design a model that fits the companies’ workforce needs,” said Garrison. “It’s do-able for everyone, if you are willing to engage with your partners and work to make it happen. I can’t stress that enough. You must engage with your industry friends. Having a point of contact, a go-to person, is very important.”
Smith also met with Bosch associates to discuss curriculum changes that would benefit students and employers.
“We sat in on company interviews with potential technicians and began to adjust our curricula, as well as the way we teach and test. We are working toward smaller labs so students receive as much hands-on experience as possible,” he said. “Our division plans to keep our programs on the cutting edge with a stronger focus on industrial networks, such as wireless technology, Smart devices, automation and computer-based control systems.”