Festo — a worldwide supplier of pneumatic and electric automation technology — is using its $60 million regional distribution center and corporate campus to bridge the skills gap in Ohio’s workforce.
The German industrial giant’s 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art assembly and warehouse site opened in September 2015 at 7777 Columbia Road in Mason and includes the Learning Center Midwest, Festo’s flagship learning center in the United States.
Festo, Sinclair Community College and area companies Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, MQ Automation and Nestlé worked for the past two years to create a two-year Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program to help employers develop the skills missing in today’s workforce.
The apprenticeship program highlight’s Festo belief in the concept of vocational education, said Yannick Schilly, vice president of operations and COO of Festo Corp.
“In Germany and worldwide, we have more than 400 apprentices in a vocational education program,” Schilly said. “Festo has 18,000 employees worldwide, so we need to fill our pipeline of talents for the future, and we don’t need only engineers or academic levels of qualification, we need also the person with the hands-on mechatronic aptitude able to operate or maintain or assemble complex automation systems.”
The program’s first group launched less than two months ago and includes 11 apprentices who are training for careers as maintenance technicians, automation specialists, service technicians and manufacturing technicians.
Combining theoretical education at the college with hands-on training at the Festo Learning Center and on-the-job training at the participating companies, the program helps individuals learn advanced manufacturing skills and earn an associate’s degree in mechatronics, technology combining electronics and mechanical engineering.
Apprentices spend one day a week at Sinclair Community College for classes, one day using state-of-the-art equipment at Festo’s Midwest Learning Center to practice what they have learned and three days working to use that new skill and knowledge in a real-life work environment for their respective employers.
“Overall, the program’s real fun,” said Rahim Graham, an 18-year-old Colerain High School graduate and an apprentice in the program. “(It’s) interactive with other people and, at the same time, learning and working.”
Employment at the facility is up to 170 employees and on track for 250 workers by 2018, company officials said Friday. Room for expansion exists both in-house and on the company’s sprawling 47-acre campus, which is visible along Interstate 71.
“We thought, as Festo Didactic is the market leader in industrial automation and market leader in industrial education and training, why not to work with the community here and to offer a vocational education apprenticeship program designed for manufacturing here in Ohio,” Schilly said.
The company is excited about the possibility of working with more companies to increase skills, help U.S. industrial activity and prepare Ohio and the nation for Industry 4.0, Schilly said.
Industry 4.0 is a term coined by the German government and one that is referred to by many as “the fourth industrial revolution,” one expected to bridge the virtual world of Internet and the cloud with the physical world.
The idea for the apprenticeship program was born out of the region’s need for highly-skilled workers, said Carolin McCaffrey, head of the learning center.
“If you look at Ohio, there are about 30,000 positions unfilled and about 130,000 people looking for a job,” McCaffrey said. “That’s the mismatch we’re talking about. That’s the skills gap.”
Going forward, a high percentage of manufacturing jobs will require additional education beyond a high school degree, she said.
“We’re offering an alternative for those younger people that are looking for a living wage, that are looking for a job career in advanced manufacturing, but would not necessarily go to college,” McCaffrey said. “They will get, in two years, an associate’s degree and if they do choose to continue afterwards, they can do that and they’re debt free.”
Recruitment for next year’s apprenticeship program is set to start soon and will include 16 students, with greater numbers of enrollment planned in subsequent years, McCaffery said.
Lt. Governor Mary Taylor said she learned of the program during the company’s grand opening celebration Friday.
“This is fantastic,” she said. “One of the challenges we continue to face, and I hear it from manufacturers all over the state of Ohio, is finding that skilled worker and making sure we have enough training programs to train the workers for the jobs that exist in the market today.”
Mason Mayor Victor Kidd said Festo integrating the education aspects of Sinclair with the hands-on experience at the company has been “pretty inspiring to see.”
“It’s also, I think, a key to the future as the U.S. kind of re-industrializes and kind of re-starts manufacturing, a lot of the problems are with qualified, skilled help,” Kidd said. “What they found is an ingenious way to interact with the educational system and themselves become kind of a hybrid of industry and education to fill those skill gaps and plan for the future.”
FESTO’S APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM: HOW TO APPLY/HOW TO BECOME A PARTNER
Festo in Mason is about to start recruitment for its 2017 Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program.
To become a partner, or for more information about the program, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 848-777-2009.