Tech-centric workforce training: New training models are changing the way we think of workforce development

Sheila Kennedy says discover your options – online and in-person – for mastering critical skills.

By Sheila Kennedy

Industrial workforce development is a constant challenge thanks to continually evolving processes and technologies and the fact that a large segment of the talent pool is nearing retirement age. As a consequence, innovative and flexible training delivery models and targeted competency-based offerings are in high demand.

Tailored tooling

Training delivery options abound, with a growing array of instructor-led courses, online courses, videos, webinars, eBooks, and conferences offering employers a multitude of choices. One of the newer approaches leverages virtual reality. The SimSci EYESIM Immersive Training System by Schneider Electric Software is an interactive system that simulates training scenarios and equipment in 3D. With its interactive process simulation and virtual walkthrough of the plant environment, operators learn their role in a control-room-like experience.

“EYESIM helps us drive people excellence via the development, training, and empowerment of a highly skilled engineering and operations workforce,” says Peter Richmond, EYESIM product manager at Schneider Electric Software.

University programs

Manufacturing organizations are constantly challenged to drive efficiency and productivity, says Susan Ottmann, engineering professional development program director at the University of Wisconsin. “With the advent of smart manufacturing, data analytics, lean implementations, and advanced automation techniques, manufacturing is changing more rapidly than ever.”

UW-Madison has a new master's in engineering degree program in manufacturing systems engineering to enhance the technical capabilities of manufacturing engineers while improving their business acumen and decision-making skills. The program is 100% online-taught by UW faculty and is designed for the working engineer/manager.

“Those who understand how to implement the Industrial Internet of Things, enabling reliability and maintainability to improve assets, have a great opportunity to gain competitive advantage," says Klaus Blache, director of the Reliability and Maintainability Center at University of Tennessee (UT-RMC). This kind of knowledge, he adds, refers to "such items as learning systems, cloud-based applications, wireless connects to monitor and control assets, embedded intelligence in equipment, real-time analytics on dashboards, and more.” 

UT-RMC educates engineering students in these topics via its regular academic coursework and industry personnel through professional development courses linked to the school's Reliability and Maintainability Implementation Certification (RMIC).

Academic and industry alliances

Frontline leaders in industrial environments can’t afford to take much time out of their daily schedules for professional education, which is why short, intensive workshops are valuable learning experiences, says Bill Astary, director of industry strategic partnership at Georgia Tech Professional Education.

An example is the "Building and Leading High-Performance Teams" workshop recently held at Georgia Tech-Savannah for mid- to upper-level managers of a global chemical manufacturer with facilities in Georgia's coastal region. “Within two days, these leaders were able to learn and practice specific new leadership skills and then apply them immediately as soon as they stepped back into their workplaces," says Astary.

Educational partnerships are also forming between academic institutions and industry consultancies, offering maintenance professionals development and career advancement through certificates, certifications, and noncredit diplomas. For instance, Marshall Institute has delivered an advanced diploma in maintenance and reliability ranagement with North Carolina State University since 2009.

“These collective partnerships elevate the status and performance of maintenance and reliability to its rightful place – as a value-added contributor to and partner in organization performance,” says Tom Furnival, director of training services at Marshall Institute.

SME promotes advanced manufacturing technology and workforce development through its training and certification programs, knowledge center, events, media, and Education Foundation. Tooling U-SME offers an extensive catalog of online and instructor-led courses, and organizations can define and track customized groups and competencies with SME's Learning Management System.

“Keeping up with advanced technologies and the latest tools is often a priority for plant managers,” says Jeannine Kunz, director of Tooling U-SME. “However, workforce development and employee training – made necessary by that technology – must also be top of mind, and managers should not underestimate the positive impacts of this investment.”

Tailored entry-level workforce development programs benefit employers, trainees, and their communities. Electrical Workers’ Union IBEW Local 18 formed a partnership with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to deliver paid pre-apprenticeship classroom and on-the-job training to selected recruits for water infrastructure and power grid maintenance as well as energy-efficiency work for DWP clients.

The Utility Pre-Craft Trainee (UPCT) program was established under the Joint Labor Management process to address increasing retirements at LADWP and to create jobs in high-unemployment, low-income areas of Los Angeles County, says Shawn McCloud, assistant business manager at IBEW Local 18.

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