How to upskill next-generation workers

It's not the technology, it’s the blue-collar, technical workforce that's needed to do the work that advances productivity

By Dave Perkon

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Stan Shoun, president of RankenTechnicalCollege, knows what's right and wrong with education—and how it can help the process industries get the skilled people they need. During his presentation this week at the 2017 Emerson Global Users Exchange in Minneapolis, he also illuminated one of Emerson Automation Solutions’ five essential competencies of digital transformation—workforce upskilling.

Shoun reported that Ranken has about 2,000 students on its three campuses in Missouri. The main campus of this 110-year-old, not-for-profit, accredited two- and four-year college is in St. Louis, which is about five miles from Emerson's offices, which has allowed them to partner for many years.

"Our founder gave us the mission of teaching the dignity of labor," said Shoun. "We make sure we prepare our students for careers. We have 16 areas we focus on, and if it doesn't lead to a career, we don't mess with it."

Its philosophy shows. Ranken places 96% of its alumni within six months of graduation, and students graduate at a high rate of 86%. There are three components to the college's education philosophy.

"We teach technical education, general education and work ethic," said Shoun. "The number one thing asked for by industry today is: 'Find me an employee that will show up on time, reliably and want to do the job.' Call it what you want, that is work ethic."

The students are graded every day on their work ethic. "They wear a uniform, get a haircut, and are graded on their communication, professionalism and teamwork," added Shoun. "If they don't receive a passing grade on the work ethic, they don't graduate. It's that simple."

The college also operates on the credo that the best way to prepare for work is to work. "Why wait to get to work before you learn about what you're supposed to be doing?" asked Shoun. "Approximately 85% of the students are involved in integrated, work-based learning such as co-ops or internships."

Shoun reported that he often hears from community leaders that they need jobs for people, but he believes this isn't the right perspective. "While there are 12,000 to 14,000 people unemployed in St Louis, a city of about 300,000 people, on any given day, there are about 25,000 jobs unfilled," he explained. "This isn't a jobs issue; it's a skills issue. The future jobs created will be skilled, not unskilled."

Shoun added these jobs aren't going to be filled by people with four-year degrees. "The vast majority—75% of the population—will not get a four-year degree," says Shoun. "That's not a bad thing. The deficit is in skilled labor. Every company I talk to is looking for skilled technicians. This needs to be addressed. We need to get students into the right area, and that's the technician area."

Ranken starts this process with students in middle school. "I don't wait until they're seniors in high school. If I do, it's too late," said Shoun. "Building the pipeline starts with community engagement and summer camps in middle school. We've had more than 29 camps with our industry partners."

The college has moved into local high schools, where they're teaching IT and advanced manufacturing skills. Its one- and two-year programs embrace work-based learning, and its four-year degrees demand a technical background.

Part of Ranken's workforce learning program includes apprentice programs and micro-enterprise programs. "A micro-enterprise is literally a reverse apprenticeship," added Shoun. "Instead of the student working in industry, we bring industry to us. We integrate the work into our curriculum by producing products and services for industries, while training a 21st-century workforce."

Of the 14 micro-enterprises at the college, two of them are with Emerson's climate group and process group. "There is actually a third micro-enterprise; it's the DeltaV training cards on display in the Emerson Global Users Exchange exhibit hall," said Shoun. "Check them out. We'll be manufacturing training cards as an Emerson product with our students.

"I ask CEOs what keeps them up at night. Almost everyone tells me it's finding a skilled, stable technical workforce. Technology is not the limiting factor. Technology is actually outpacing us being able to work with it. The limiting factor is the workforce. Until we embrace this, the economy won't move forward. It will stagnate. We have to be able to build. This nation was built on a blue-collar-technical workforce. If we're going to continue to be a world leader, we'll need to develop the blue-collar, technical workers of the future."

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