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Prepping a Pipeline for Mechatronics

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Prepping a Pipeline for Mechatronics
CTC and Community College Partner to Develop Workforce for State Manufacturers

Combine an aging workforce with a lack of reliable talent and most would see the beginning of the end for manufacturing in Pennsylvania. But the staff at Berks Career and Technology Center (BCTC) and Reading Area Community College (RACC) saw an opportunity. Their partnership for a mechatronics engineering technology program will teach students a broad spectrum of skills, provide multiple exit points into the workforce and provide Pennsylvania manufacturers with a pool of potential employees.

How It Works
Dorothy Furbay, the West Campus principal at BCTC, says that several students from the center will start the Technical Academy Program in the fall. These college-bound, 10th- and 11th-grade students will complete five courses at BCTC, attaining 15 transcripted credits toward an associate’s degree. They will also earn an Advanced Manufacturing Integrated Systems Technology (AMIST) Level 1 certification. Bonnie Spayd, Director of Business and Industry Programs, explained that the college credit is provided through a Tech Prep articulation agreement.

After the first phase, students will then transfer to the Schmidt Training and Technology Center at RACC, completing 12 more credits and earning the AMIST Level 2 certificate. Furbay and Spayd explain that these credits are handled as early admissions and are underwritten by BCTC through outside funding.

Students can continue at RACC after their graduation at BCTC, receiving their AMIST Level 3 and 4 certifications and completing their associate’s degree in mechatronics and engineering technology. Spayd adds that there are several four-year transfer options available for students to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Why It Works
The reputation RACC and the training center have for their direct application to the industry and the flexibility of the program through e-learning and free lab time made them an attractive partner for BCTC. For the past five years, the center has trained incumbent workers in the labs for plants all across the state. “The Center includes $2.5 million of equipment and the way we teach is built for the industry,” said Spayd.

“Reading Area Community College is the model for other schools in Pennsylvania,” said Furbay. “They have done a lot of research to make it right.” Furbay added that it is the relationship to industry that truly makes this work. BCTC and RACC act as the workforce developers and assist local manufacturers. In Pennsylvania, the manufacturing sector has remained productive and in need of qualified employees. Spayd says she receives e-mails all the time from people at area facilities looking for people to work in their plants.

“Manufacturing is not dead. You still need someone to work the machines,” said Furbay.

Win-Win
Everyone involved benefits from the program.

According to Spayd, students walk away with a blended skill set in electrical, mechanical and computer science. These skills are a pathway to high-skill, high-wage and high-demand jobs.

It is also a low cost for students, who receive their first two years of the program at no cost to them. Students leaving the program after the first two years are employable, having completed the two levels of certification. “When they come in through BCTC, they get 27 credits for free and can lock into college credit prices to continue. That price is three times cheaper than the non-credit price the industry pays to train employees at the center,” said Spayd.

The student interest is proof that this is a win for them. Furbay said they had an open house about the program this winter and did not think anyone would come because of the bad weather—and they had to bring in extra chairs. “The open house turned out amazing. The students understand that they can head out and get a job. Their employer may help them continue their education,” she said.

The community college also benefits from a prepared, college-ready pool of students for their program. RACC is provided with students vetted by the CTC who will complete the program successfully and will continue at the college after their CTC graduation.

Spayd added that Pennsylvania manufacturers also find the program useful. The industry already uses the RACC center to train their incumbent workers. Their plants continue to run with a fresh set of graduates.

These combined benefits make this program influential in creating a pipeline of mechatronics workers. Spayd said, “Articulation is the best option. If you are a good student with a good work ethic, you will get a job. Right now, businesses need people in their plants.”

For More Information
The Reading Area Community College developed a short video on the mechatronics program and mechatronics careers.

Pennsylvania Association for Career and Technical Education Mechatronics Article Photo

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