Molding Tomorrow's Manufacturing Worker

Madisonville, KY – A five and a half million dollar National Science Foundation grant is enabling a multi-college, industry-partnered collaborative across several states to produce the manufacturing worker of tomorrow. Kentucky's Community and Technical College is one school system spearheading the initiative and its Madisonville campus is already showing results.

In its earliest form, a manufacturer involved a skilled artisan and his assistants working together to produce something. Since that inception, it's been all about efficiency. Skip past the industrial revolution and mass production lines to today and the trend continues. Now, mechanized robotic arms and electrical engineered machinery replace workers to speed up production. So, companies want increasingly flexible and lean manufacturing lines. Workers that are

Cox- Multi-skilled technicians.

Chief Academic Affairs Officer Dr. Debbie Cox at Madisonville Community College.

Cox- Someone who could function in a wide variety of areas and function well, but could troubleshoot on the spot and could problem solve as a part of a team.

Cox says the manufacture worker of tomorrow will need better communication, math, and computer skills and be able to function in many different areas within their organization.

Cox- Not someone who just work as an electrician or a tool and die operator. They really needed to know a little bit of everything.

So, the question is how to train that workforce. 75 students just enrolled this fall in the school's debut manufacturing education program: Advanced Integrated Industrial Technology. It's an associate in applied science degree with credits that easily transfer to other schools for more advanced degrees. Cox says the school counts that number as a big success for its first semester offered. One reason may be its accessibility.

Cox- The unique part about it is the whole degree program is offered online and we have taken those three credit-hour courses and broken them down into one credit-hour, sometimes a half a credit-hour, so that it's more customizable to fit needs.

To prepare for the program, Cox and others conducted research, held focus groups, and traveled all over the U.S. visiting various manufacturing sites to learn industry best practices. Cox says one thing that makes the program function so well is its collaboration with the private sector. While the Madisonville program teams up with a local facility that makes support beams for mine shafts, System Director Annette Parker represents Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges at collaborative summits in Washington D.C.

Parker- Kentucky plays a key role in that; as in, we're leading it.

It's called the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative or AMTEC for short. It's a combination of twenty-five college systems and 21 major automotive companies, with big names like General Motors and Toyota. Parker says they work together to continually craft a new and improved curriculum that shapes how schools prepare students to compete for manufacturing jobs around the world.

Parker- What it does is it brings in competencies that might expand on what we're doing. We bring in all of the faculty statewide that are teaching in those areas. They've looked at it, they participated in the professional development activities and then they made some adjustments to their curriculum as they look at what's going on in that industry.

More than 2,100 students are enrolled in manufacturing-related programs in community colleges across the Commonwealth. Parker expects Kentucky to emerge as an industry leader in manufacturing, as the college system continues to help produce multi-skilled technicians for globally narrowing workforce lines.