Tuesday, June 17, 2008
CERT Program Strives to Bridge Skills Gap With Hands-On Integrated Certified Training
The key to the CERT program is the certification by FANUC Robotics of the schools via the instructors

The way for North America to stem the tide of jobs lost overseas, and to restore its economy, is by investing in manufacturing technologies that make companies more competitive in the world market. Unfortunately, we are suffering from what has been called the “skills gap,” where there are more high-tech jobs available than workers trained to do those jobs. FANUC Robotics’ Certified Education Robot Training (CERT) Program strives to put better-trained robot operators in the field. 


Why are high-tech jobs important to North America? According to the American Youth Policy Forum, there are currently 1.3 million engineering technology jobs available in the U.S. without trained people to fill them. By 2020, there will be a shortage of 13 million to 15 million skilled workers.


“The companies in our area are having a hard time finding qualified employees to bring in for maintenance, technician and quality control jobs,” says Charles Peter Straman, an instructor at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC.


“It’s a real problem,” echoes Jeff Carney, Chairman of the Building, Engineering and Technology Department at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI.  “The current technical workforce is getting near retirement age and students are not entering those same technical fields being vacated.”


Further evidence of the skills gap comes in an aptly named report by the National Association of Manufacturers. More than 80 percent of respondents in NAM’s most recent Skills Gap Report indicated they are experiencing a shortage of qualified workers overall. A full 90 percent of respondents indicated a moderate to severe shortage of qualified skilled production employees. Some 83 percent of respondents indicated these shortages are currently impacting their ability to serve customers. High-performance workplace requirements have significantly increased as a result of the skills gap and the challenge of competing in a global economy, according to nearly 75 percent of NAM report participants.


Skills shortages are having a widespread impact on manufacturers’ abilities to achieve production levels, increase productivity, and meet customer demands the report concludes. “This human capital performance gap threatens our nation’s ability to compete in today’s fast-moving and increasingly demanding global economy,” wrote Phyllis Eisen, Jerry J. Jasinowksi and Richard Kleinert in the study’s introduction. “It is emerging as our nation’s most critical business issue. Clearly this situation calls for urgent action by both public and private stakeholders.”


Gordon Belt, Lead Faculty of Manufacturing Engineering Technology Programs at Lansing Community College in Lansing, MI, says: “The companies that are here and will stay here and be competitive have embraced technology. You can’t rely on the old ways and some of the old ways include manual labor. The jobs have changed because the environment has changed. That’s the evolution of business.”


Compounding the problem for users of robotics, the Robotics Industry Association (RIA) says North American-based robotics suppliers posted gains of 24 percent in new orders to North American manufacturing companies in the first nine months of 2007. RIA estimates that there are 178,000 robots now at work in U.S. factories, placing the U.S. second only to Japan in overall robot use. Yet, there are not enough qualified workers to operate these robots.


State governments are making efforts to ease the skills gap. In November 2007, the New York State Assembly passed the High Technology Manufacturing Workforce Development Act, authorizing the State University of New York to create a high-technology job training program at community colleges to explore the feasibility and benefits of retraining displaced manufacturing workers and other initiatives. Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota and other states have published educational and worker-retraining initiatives targeted at eliminating the problem.


The FANUC Robotics CERT program supports what the state projects intend to do – help high school, trade school, community college and university students acquire the skills necessary to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s manufacturing environment. “It does so by certifying educational institutions to train students to program and use FANUC robots through the development and implementation of new courses of integrated instruction, and project based activities designed to prepare students for a workplace that will find a pervasive use of robotic automation,” says Peter Varbedian, a Senior Staff Specialist at FANUC Robotics.


“It’s absolutely critical for corporations to support educational institutions in an effort to turn out the best possible graduates,” Carney says. “It’s to the companies’ advantage. Students become familiar with their equipment and that’s what they will tend to purchase when they get into positions where they make those decisions.”


Key Is Certification 


The key to the CERT program is the certification by FANUC Robotics of the schools via the instructors. The instructors receive train-the-trainer classes and FANUC Robotics issues certification to the school as teachers of the FANUC Robotics system. In class, the program integrates hands-on experience with robotic automation with the current curriculum to help teach design and manufacturing concepts. Students who pass the defined testing will receive a certificate that is issued jointly by the educational institution and FANUC Robotics, stating they are a certified robot programmer.


CERT Mobile Training Unit


The FANUC Robotics CERT Mobile Training Unit is a compact, portable, self-contained robotic educational laboratory that allows students to learn how to program a real robot, in real time, in a safe and controlled environment…anywhere it can be rolled. (Optional table-top mounting is available.) It comes with the following:


·         Camera and vision system with calibration

·         ROBOGUIDE for offline programming, which is ideal for today’s digital learners

·         Collision protection and singularity avoidance

·         Handling Tool software


Motivation for Schools 


Bridging the skills gap is going to take a concerted effort between industry and academia, partnering to create new courses and project-based activities to prepare students for a workplace that will find an ever-growing use of robotic automation.


“When students come in and see the actual environment they’ll be learning in and the equipment they’re going to be working on, that could certainly be a draw,” says Ferris State’s Carney. “Real world applications in the classroom is what we’re all about.”


Typical degrees and programs that are currently integrating robotic within the curriculum are:

·         Industrial, mechanical and manufacturing engineering or technology

·         Digital manufacturing, lean manufacturing and manufacturing management

·         CNC (Computer Numerical Control) technology

·         Inspection and quality control technology

·         Operations management

·         CAD/virtual prototyping


“In a corporate setting, FANUC provides high-level training over three or four days. Students, and even people looking to be retrained, don’t have the kind of resources required for that level of training,” says Lansing CC’s Belt. “Now they can get it here over a 16-week semester. With partners like FANUC, we can bring in the latest equipment, and we’re ensured that we’re up to date on our software and instructor knowledge.”


FANUC Robotics America’s products are utilized in many industry segments and are applicable for many academic purposes. Therefore, the FANUC Robotics CERT program liaison works with each educational partner to develop a program plan especially suited to the school’s needs.

Click here for more information on the CERT Program.