NextGen Technicians: Addressing Industry Demand for Robotics
This project at North Iowa Area Community College is designed to increase the number of industrial technicians in the workforce who are skilled in robotics. Manufacturing is the largest workforce sector in North Iowa. A spring 2018 survey of 30 regional manufacturers confirmed the general need for more industrial technicians. In addition, respondents indicated a strong need for technicians with robotics education. Because of the combined issues of too few workers and the need for technicians with robotics education, employers are struggling to meet production demands. This project will use strategies to broaden the pipeline into the courses that will best support the burgeoning need for robotics-savvy technicians. The region and the college have a high proportion of first-generation low-income students. Thus, this project's focus on robotics may help many individuals with financial need move more quickly into high paying jobs. The project aims to develop educational pathways to broaden access to robotics education for populations including veterans, high school dual enrollment students, students on the college campus, and incumbent workers. This project may provide a model for other community colleges and their industry partners about how to incorporate advanced robots into manufacturing technician preparation. As a result, the project has the potential to contribute to improving the national STEM workforce.
The inclusion of robotics will allow the college to offer instruction in more advanced levels of industrial technology. An introductory robotics class for Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance and Industrial Systems Technology students will address industry need and also support college recruiting, which is key to providing more industrial technician graduates to regional employers. The course will embed a newly-developed stackable credential from the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) and the college will uniquely enhance the credential by adding lab courses that feature state-of-the-art robots. This project will enable the college to recruit and educate more industrial technicians, with a plan to double the number of graduates in the Industrial Mechanics and Maintenance and Industrial Systems Technology programs and introduce new robotics training to these students. To these ends, the project focuses on: 1) adding state-of-the-art robotics equipment and training faculty in the new robotics technology; 2) training and credentialing all Mechanics and Maintenance and Industrial Systems Technology students using a new Introduction to Robotics course that will include hands-on robotics labs and NC3 Level 1: Fundamentals Robotics coursework and robotics credentialing; 3) creating and implementing demonstration projects for both educational and recruiting purposes to expand the pathway into the college Mechanics and Maintenance and Industrial Systems Technology programs; and 4) training and credentialing incumbent workers using the Introduction to Robotics course with the NC3 robotics credential. The use of this curricular model is based on results of previous research and draws on the experience of closely-related NSF-funded projects.