“Our trailer, which is booked for 47 weeks this year, allows us to take the training to businesses and directly address the region’s manufacturing skills gap,” said William Gary, executive vice president of work force, community and economic development at Tri-C. “Employers allow their employees time, and they can walk right out of the plant and into our trailer for an hour, or three hours, to conduct the training right on site.”
Oatey currently has 15 employees enrolled in mobile training. The curriculum includes: modules on blueprint and schematics reading; sensors, pneumatics and hydraulics; and advanced troubleshooting. “We recognized a need to grow the skills of our internal technical talent,” Bob Rodgers, Oatey’s chemical plant manager, said.
In turn, the company expects a bang for its buck. “We anticipate seeing improved machine uptime,” Mr. Rodgers said. “When machines are running, we achieve greater efficiency and production. Moreover, with this investment, we see enthusiasm and engagement from our maintenance team who appreciate our commitment to their professional development.”
For workers who have been on the job for decades like Mr. Santos, the training is a way to keep digital skills current. “For those who are mid- or late career, who perhaps haven’t had to navigate the enrollment process, time commitment and commuting aspects of college, the convenience of the mobile classroom has been a welcome innovation,” said Maureen Pansky, senior human resources manager at Oatey’s manufacturing plant.
There is a real demand for these mobile units, especially for older workers who need to learn new skills or enhance their skills to move forward, said Phyllis Cummins, senior research scholar at the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is examining the role that community colleges can play for workers ages 40 to 64 to help them remain competitive in the labor market.
The students she has interviewed were all “very concerned about keeping their skills up-to-date and having opportunities to improve their skills,” Ms. Cummins said. The good news: “Because of very low unemployment rates, employers are taking on more of the responsibility for providing training and opportunities, which can also help workers, for example, shift to a new position in manufacturing as technology makes some jobs obsolete.”
One of the mobile lab pioneers is Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay. “We started in 2010 with our first one, which taught computer numerical machining,” said Mark Weber, dean of trades and engineering technologies. “Our goal was to bring training to rural high schools and introduce students to advanced manufacturing careers. We give them hands-on experience with electromechanical and automation engineering training and teach maintenance technician skills for manufacturing plants.”