Manufacturing and robotics training under way

Phillip Seidenstricker, a graduate of the engineering and manufacturing program at Tolles Career and Technical Center, checks out the new RAMTEC robotics at Tolles.
Phillip Seidenstricker, a graduate of the engineering and manufacturing program at Tolles Career and Technical Center, checks out the new RAMTEC robotics at Tolles.

(Posted Oct. 2, 2015)

This fall, students at Tolles Career and Technical Center in Plain City—as well as adults and businesses from the area—have access to one of the most advanced manufacturing and robotics training centers in the region.

In August the school’s new Robotics & Advanced Manufacturing Technology Education Collaborative (RAMTEC) Center began to take shape. The RAMTEC Center’s advanced equipment includes a FANUC Mechatronics unit, a Motoman robot welder and a FANUC CNC certification cart.

“People are really excited about the robotics,” said Milt Kniss, coordinator for the Tolles RAMTEC Center. “They can do so many clever things.”

But what excites Tolles staff—and central Ohio businesses—is the center’s ability to bridge the significant skills gaps in manufacturing, engineering and robotics.

“We are very proud and very fortunate to be able to bring this caliber of workforce development training to our region,” said Tolles Superintendent Kim Wilson. “This will be to the advantage of students, adults and our businesses.”

Helping to fill the talent pipeline

The need to address the skills gap is pressing. Even as manufacturing has surged in central Ohio, employers are hard pressed to find qualified talent to fill open positions. Kniss, who came to Tolles after a 40-year career in the manufacturing industry, has seen this firsthand.

“From my experience, it has been extremely difficult to fill that skill set of journeymen,” he said. “Manufacturers can’t hire today and get the skill sets they need to backfill coming retirements.”

The hands-on RAMTEC Center will provide a much-needed pathway to manufacturing and engineering careers. Certifications are available for FANUC or Motoman robots, as well as in CNC and maintenance and welding.

“We are teaching exactly what manufacturers need,” said Kniss. “Students coming out of high school will be employable with living wages and good benefits.”

The center is part of the RAMTEC Statewide Advanced Manufacturing STEM-Career Technical Education Consortium, led by Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion. The consortium received a $14.99 million Ohio Straight A Fund grant in June 2014 to launch eight sites across the state. Tolles received about $1.5 million of the funding to renovate its existing engineering and manufacturing technology lab, develop a mobile lab, and more.

Opportunities for adult learners

Tolles students aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the RAMTEC Center. Adults will have access to training and certifications through Tolles’ adult education division. Area businesses will also be able to use the center to provide customized workforce training or certification to their staff. This is an asset that businesses are already talking about, according to David Kell, Madison County Future Inc. executive director.

“We have talked with one company that typically sends their people out of state for training that they will now be able to do right here,” Kell said. “I can use the center to sell the community and school for businesses that are looking to relocate or expand here.”

Setting careers in motion at younger ages

Tolles has also partnered with Jonathan Alder Local Schools to develop a related career-technical pathway for middle and high school students to support the area’s most high-demand fields.

During the 2014-15 school year, Tolles offered a pre-engineering and an information technology curriculum at Jonathan Alder Junior High School. For the 2015-16 school year, the program has been expanded to a pre-engineering and manufacturing program and an information technology program for freshmen and sophomores at Jonathan Alder High School.

“With our proximity to Honda and Scott’s, this is an opportunity to potentially fill a huge need that we as a public school district were not equipped to provide,” said Jonathan Alder Superintendent Gary Chapman.

“One of the biggest struggles we have in public education is that we are funded by the state to provide only the core courses. To be able to expand on our course offerings and provide these kids with accessibility to new programs aligns with our vision and mission to meet kids’ needs and prepare them for the future.”

Embedding the program at Jonathan Alder was based on strategic research, Wilson noted.

“Our labor market research showed that their market is driven by manufacturing and IT influences, both of which are facing a critical shortage in qualified talent in that area.”

Tolles is providing the staff and equipment for the programs, while Jonathan Alder is providing the space. All students in seventh grade will be exposed to both programs, while the programs in grades 8-10 are offered as electives.

“We’re so blessed to have this partnership with Tolles for the benefit of our kids and our community. What an outstanding opportunity,” Chapman said.

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