Ivy Tech degree boosts skills in industrial maintenance

November 15th, 2013

News Coverage:

Ivy Tech degree boosts skills in industrial maintenance

College starts program to meet industry need

Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 7:57 am, Fri Nov 15, 2013.

By Doug LeDuc
dleduc@kpcmedia.com

Ivy Tech Community College Northeast is preparing a super-degree to meet a pressing industrial need and is looking for students who are up to its challenge.

The closest thing the program has to a name right now is an associate degree in industrial maintenance with a focus on automation and robotics. Most Ivy Tech associate degrees require 60 credit hours, and this one requires 12 on top of that.

An internship imbedded in it offers the opportunity for more hands-on, real-world experience.

Students in the program will attend classes three days a week and spend two days a week in the workplace applying what they have learned in the classrooms and related training labs.

If their class and lab time were devoted to practice and instruction on the use of the programmable logic controllers that run factory automation and robotics, for example, they would be assigned to a plant’s PLC work group.

“It’s a little bit more specialized and more hands-on than our advanced manufacturing, which has tended to be a little more theory-oriented and more bookish,” said Jim Aschliman, executive director of Ivy Tech’s Corporate College.

The program is being created “to meet industry needs; industry has said through the Indiana Automotive Council it needed to have more industrial maintenance-type people and needed to have a curriculum to develop them,” he said. Ivy Tech “is nimble and flexible and we meet community needs.”

Industrial-maintenance technicians are important partly because they help plants get longer life and top performance out of manufacturing equipment through proper care and maintenance, enabling facilities to operate production lines with minimal downtime.

There is a nationwide shortage of factory workers with this higher level of skill even though those jobs pay better than production work. Sue Smith, corporate executive for advanced manufacturing in the office of the president at Ivy Tech, said Ivy Tech has studied how community colleges across the country have been responding to the nationwide problem and based the super-degree program on the best models that have been emerging.

Students who enter the super-degree program straight out of high school will pay for the part of their training that takes place at Ivy Tech, and their employers will pay them for the work they do as part of their internships.

There also will be employers covering the program’s entire cost for employees they plan to promote to industrial maintenance technician positions once it is completed, Smith said.

“The cost is so inexpensive they could probably create a technician as cheaply as a staffing agency could get a technician. It makes sense to grow your own,” she said. “Local technicians are more likely to stay in the area.”

Nine manufacturers in Wells County did just that this summer with a program developed through their collaboration with the Corporate College, WorkOne Northeast, Norwell High School and Wells County Economic Development.

Production workers selected for the training went through a 200-hour class that covered topics such as electricity, fluid power, machining, motors, welding and programmable logic controllers. Based on its success in Wells County it was replicated in Adams County.

Smith said the associate degree in industrial maintenance with a focus on automation and robotics will become available at Ivy Tech locations as they develop it to meet regional needs and find students for it.

Any employers willing to host more interns for the program than they plan to hire will be providing a service for other industrial employers who are not able to participate but need workers with the skills it will develop, Smith said.

John Walter, dean of the school of technology at Ivy Tech Northeast, said it could be ready to offer the super-degree program as early as next spring.

It has one of the best community-college facilities for advanced manufacturing in the nation at its north campus near Stellhorn and St. Joe roads, and the courses he said would be needed for the program “are already in our inventory; we just have to tweak them.”

Ivy Tech Northeast received more than $2 million in grant funding from the Talent Initiative to buy some of the latest capital equipment, advanced-manufacturing machinery and software for the advanced-manufacturing labs in the Steel Dynamics Keith E. Busse Technology Center.

Most of the Ivy Tech Northeast funding was spent on high-end computer numerical control equipment, but the center also was able to buy precision measuring machines and robotic and metallurgy testing equipment.

Walter said Ivy Tech Northeast will work with area high schools, WorkOne Northeast, the Talent Initiative and industrial employers in northeast Indiana to find students for the super-degree program. Part of the recruitment effort will involve correcting misconceptions about modern manufacturing. Some people incorrectly believe industrial work environments have not improved much during the past half-century and production work is too unreliable to make manufacturing occupations worthwhile.

“Manufacturing is not what it used to be; the dark, dirty days of manufacturing are over,” Walter said. “All these facilities are well-lit, environmentally controlled and clean.”

He said the offshoring trend that moved less-skilled U.S. manufacturing to countries with lower labor costs appears to be largely over, and most of the production work remaining in the United States involves advanced manufacturing. Even in cases where occasional layoffs have interrupted the occupations of veteran production workers, “if they look at the income these people earned over their 20 to 25 years, they made far more than they would have made in a service industry,” he said.

The national shortage of skilled production workers and industrial maintenance technicians is likely to intensify as the U.S. work force continues to age and more and more baby boomers retire, he said.

“We’re not getting them replaced, so we have to turn the stigma of manufacturing around somehow,” Walter said. At Ivy Tech Northeast, “we have the facility, we have the curriculum, and we need people who are interested in manufacturing to get back into the classroom and learn these updated skills.”

Categories