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Veteran skills vs. industry needs

Nov. 14, 2017
Rockwell Automation and ManPowerGroup partner to train returning veterans for advanced manufacturing opportunities

In all the hubbub about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing and other forms of digitalization, a simple fact is often forgotten—a lot of people will be needed to develop, apply, maintain and optimize all these new tools and systems.

Unfortunately, even as these technologies leap ahead, the skills and technical professionals needed to implement them have grown increasingly scarce due to Baby Boomer retirements, layoffs, neglected worker training, and other factors.

"The manufacturing skills shortage is real and widespread," said Chris Layden, vice president, ManpowerGroup, in a presentation at Automation Perspectives, a media event hosted by Rockwell Automation in the run-up to the company’s Automation Fair this week in Houston. "Manufacturers and industrial operators worldwide are losing experienced employees to retirement and struggling to find replacements. At the same time, rapid technology advances are creating new opportunities, but also the need for new skills that aren't readily available."

Skills gap profile

Based on the results of Manpower's recent surveys, Layden reported that, "About 40% of U.S. companies are having trouble finding talent, despite declining unemployment in major markets. This is affecting every employer, and impacting decisions on where to locate plants, and how to handle supply chains."

To put the technical workforce shortage in its proper context, Layden added that:

  • 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled in the U.S. by 2025
  • Training costs increase as employers seek to close not just the present skills gap, but a new gap that emerges as required skills evolve
  • 75% of employers add that new skills will be required during the next two years, but many aren't able to define them yet

"After 30 years of declines in the number of manufacturing jobs but steadily increasing output, we saw a plateau in employment and productivity in the last four years," said Layden.

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"Manufacturing is upskilling. In fact, for the first time, we recently saw that more than half of manufacturing workers had at least some college; about 75% of employers are doing internal training; and we worked with Digital Manufacturing Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) to identify 165 different roles, such as digital twin architect and data management analyst, which are critical to the success of digital manufacturing."

Layden added that the emerging Human Age 2.0 and its impact on workforce issues includes four main facets:

  • Technological revolution and the impact of digitalization on people and their skills, which includes emerging markets leapfrogging ahead of those with decades more experience but older infrastructures
  • Rise of client sophistication with power shifting to organizations like Uber, Twitter and Instagram that allow instant performance ratings and notifications
  • Greater individual choice that consists of people moving from having one job for life to taking on the perspective of a "career for me" if they have the required talents
  • Shifting demographics that are altering how people think about where and how they want to work

Academy gears up

Rockwell Automation balanced some of Layden’s sobering news by announcing the first 14 graduates of the company’s newly established Academy of Advanced Manufacturing (AAM). This first class of U.S. military veterans underwent an intense, 12-week training course at the company's site in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. The veterans were trained as instrument, controls and automation technicians on a range of Rockwell Automation products including controllers, I/O, human-machine interfaces (HMIs), power and motion equipment, and network and communication devices.

Because more than 4.3 million veterans are expected to leave U.S. military service from 2003-2019, and about 65% will need help finding outside employment, Rockwell Automaton determined this labor pool could be a rich, initial resource of potential engineers and technicians into which it can instill advanced manufacturing know-how and skills—and begin to close the technical skills gap.

In past years, Rockwell Automation graduated more than 7,000 field service and development engineers and leadership candidates from its three-month basic and three-month advanced training courses. It further distilled this curriculum over the past year to create AAM's 12-week program.

Joseph Allie, business manager for global competency, Rockwell Automation, reported that the 14 members of AAM's first class graduated last week in a ceremony at the company’s facility in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, and they plan to scale up the program there and at their Milwaukee headquarters. The company expects this first class will set the stage for hundreds and eventually thousands more. Its goal is to have 1,000 graduates per year.

Four of AAM's first class described their experiences during the Automation Perspectives event. They included: Christopher Allison, eight-year U.S. Army veteran and senior team leader; LeAndre "Dre" Davis, six-year U.S. Air Force veteran, senior airman and HVAC/electrical journeyman; Travis Tolbert, 14-year U.S. Navy veteran and chief electronics technician; and Scott Bingham, 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran and offensive avionics systems technician.

"The typical day at AAM included hands-on lab work and presentations that were fast-moving," said Bingham. "The theory and instruction was supported by the day-to-day operations we'll likely experience in the field on potential jobs. We learned what will happen, and how to deal with it. Our instructors were really experts, and our quizzes, tests and evaluations were supported by practical labs on production facilities, where we learned to use controllers, HMIs, drives and motion equipment. I think it was the closest we could get to real-world experience."

Davis reported, "We had to use many mechanical skills in the military, and so it felt like that helped us pick up the skills we needed for the AAM course pretty quickly. I think learning about HMIs and visualization was most interesting for me because I feel like I'm pretty creative, so I enjoyed learning to build HMI displays box by box, and assigning instructions to them."

Tolbert added that he appreciated the relevance of AAM's instructors and training materials, and having the chance to learn to program, connect and configure a wide variety of Rockwell Automation products. "We even got to learn about the latest and greatest controllers," he added. "I was a trainer in the military, dealing with many kinds of students, and so I especially appreciated how AAM's instructors responded and adapted so quickly to all our needs, spent extra time with us, and made sure they taught us what we needed to know."

Following last week's graduation, Tolbert reported that he's already been hired as a process optimization specialist with a paper manufacturing company, while Bingham added that he's accepted a position with an energy equipment supplier, where he'll help upgrade plant systems. Davis added that he's in a second round of interviews with another paper manufacturer, while Allison is presently interviewing for a controls engineering job with a Texas-based paper mill. All AAM graduates are guaranteed a job upon graduation.

"I'd challenge our veteran brothers and sisters to change their lives by taking courses like we did at AAM," said Bingham. "If we can do it, they can do it, too."

Allison added, "I believe this was the best decision I've ever made after choosing to serve my country."     

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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