A group of dedicated businesses, school districts and a technical college in Wisconsin have collaborated to bring advanced manufacturing education to students across the region like never before. The Manufacturing 4.0 Co-op, as the group is now called, is a shining example of how students and employers benefit when education and industry work together.
Many high school students are unaware of all the rewarding career opportunities that await them in the world of industry and manufacturing. This is partly because the inaccurate “dark, dirty and dangerous” view of manufacturing still lingers in our culture. But for many students, they just don’t get exposed to advanced manufacturing technology in the classroom.
Many school districts across the Midwest are addressing this by implementing progressive manufacturing curriculum, learning systems, hands-on projects and exposure to manufacturing careers. Clean, high-tech equipment in the classroom models what a modern manufacturing floor looks like.
When students walk past a classroom filled with industrial-grade robots, mechatronics systems, digital HMI panels and digital twin software on the computers, they ask how they can enroll in that class. This trend is truly helping to solve the skills gap problem.
While we’re trending in the right direction, some regions face greater challenges upgrading their Tech Ed labs. Due to their limited resources, many rural districts are unable to provide updated and modern opportunities for their students. And yet, manufacturing is often the lifeblood of these rural regions, so creating a talent pipeline and retaining students in the region is crucial.
The Manufacturing 4.o Co-op in Wisconsin has devised a unique solution to this challenge. Four school districts and four industry partners came together to pool their resources. Together, they now have the ability to invest in new technology and curriculum, to offer new Industry 4.0 courses, and to connect students with local employers who can provide excellent careers for them in the future.
Kevin Bruggink, Superintendent of Oostburg School District, commented on the impact this Co-op will have on the students: “The efficiencies in our small school partnership with local businesses is providing industry standard training tools so our students have the opportunity to graduate with skills and certifications that have traditionally been reserved for technical school graduates.”
The Manufacturing 4.0 Co-op developed an incredible program that provides students with Industry 4.0-based opportunities in four areas:
First, Industry 4.0 curriculum and hands-on learning systems will be integrated into each school district’s technical education coursework. This curriculum will also be shared with general math and science classes to increase awareness of all students about manufacturing careers.
Second, participating students will visit the industrial facilities of each employer partner for a firsthand view of the technology and careers about which they are learning at school.
Third, employer partners will visit the participating schools as guest speakers and share examples of how the very skills and technologies they’re learning in the classroom are being utilized in that company’s facility.
During these visits, students will also learn about careers in manufacturing including production, maintenance, engineering, and IT. The involvement of the employer partners will increase awareness, exploration, and excitement among future talent.
Anne Troka, Community Engagement Manager of Sargento remarked, “This new initiative gives schools and employers an opportunity to build professional relationships and help students prepare themselves for success through experiential learning in the classroom and in our companies.”
Fourth and finally, these new Industry 4.0 courses will be “dual credit” (credit received both in high school and college) certified by Lakeshore Technical College and promoted to students through Inspire Sheboygan County.
Jim Lemerond, Vice President of Instruction at Lakeshore Technical College, is enthusiastic about this project. “Industry 4.0 is a great opportunity for high school students to get an industry based credential that can lead to entry-level employment or transition into an educational program at Lakeshore Technical College.”
So what are the students learning? The Co-op has implemented the Industry 4.0 Fundamentals program – a four-course program that includes eLearning and hands-on training systems for a wide range of advanced manufacturing competencies. The four courses that rotate through the four school districts each quarter will be: Mechatronics A, Mechatronics B, Industrial Controls, and Industrial Robotics.
In an incredibly collaborative effort, the districts purchased the Industry 4.0 learning systems by strategically leveraging available funding sources. A total of $150,000 was won through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Fast Forward Technical Education Equipment grants over a two-year period, with matching funds leveraged through the employer partners.
The Co-op now has the most modern manufacturing equipment available today. It currently rotates quarterly between the schools, with the opportunity for future expansion.The implementation of the Manufacturing 4.0 Co-op will provide unprecedented opportunity for the students of the four rural education partners. The technical skills, workplace skills and competencies gained by the students will prepare them for careers and future educational paths in industrial disciplines
The program will also grow student awareness of industrial careers, entry level positions, tuition reimbursement programs and work-based learning opportunities including apprenticeships.
Brad Ebert, Superintendent of Kiel Area School District, sums up the project perfectly:
“This initiative aligns perfectly with our strategic plan…The collaborative work that has been done by this group of dedicated partners is an example of what can happen when a commitment is made to create as many career pathways for students as possible!”