It’s no secret that industries of all kinds are battling a serious supply and demand issue. Due to advancing technology and increasing use of automation, employers need more highly-skilled workers than ever before.
Unfortunately, the supply of workers with the advanced technical and technological skills employers need isn’t keeping pace. This well-known problem is known as the “skills gap.” It’s been a problem for a while now, and experts believe it will only get worse in the near future.
What employers need are workers with advanced “connected systems” skills that will help them operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair the automation equipment becoming commonplace in facilities that have adopted new Industry 4.0 technologies.
To date, however, industry and educators alike have been missing the key to solve this skills gap: a set of industry-defined and industry-validated standards that clearly define the skills workers will need to succeed in the jobs of the present and future.
Providing that missing link was the guiding vision behind the creation of the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA). In a recent webinar (“SACA Webinar”) hosted by Matt Kirchner, President of Lab Midwest, representatives of several major manufacturers spoke about their role in the development of SACA’s Industry 4.0 skill standards, as well as how those standards are now guiding their training and education efforts.
SACA’s Vision for Industry 4.0 Certifications
Why are SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications so valuable? They speak to the in-demand skills that employers across the country — and across the globe — need so desperately.
Not only do the nation’s educational institutions need to build a pipeline of skilled talent to supply employers with the highly-skilled workers they need now and in the future, but incumbent workers also need training to learn the new skills they need to work with the advanced Industry 4.0 automation systems taking over modern manufacturing facilities.
But what are those skills? That’s the key question, and answering that question is what brought SACA into existence. According to SACA’s Executive Director, Jim Wall:
“SACA’s vision from the beginning was to develop a system that’s based upon industry-developed, industry-validated standards that truly define the competencies, performance indicators, and knowledge indicators that are required of individuals to succeed in the world of Industry 4.0.”
To turn that vision into reality, SACA relied upon a wide variety of companies, educational institutions, and organizations to develop, review, and test SACA certification standards. Experts from well-known industry leaders, such as Rockwell Automation, FANUC, Ashley Furniture, Kohler, Foxconn, Boeing, and Hershey, were instrumental in making sure SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications reflect the competencies that industry needs.
Industry 4.0 is Here to Stay
Several of the industry representatives who shared stories during the SACA Webinar spoke about the changes that Industry 4.0 technologies have wrought and how their companies have been forced to respond.
Al Doty, Advanced Manufacturing Chief Engineer for Harley-Davidson, Inc., revealed that automation has been key to his company maintaining a competitive edge. Not only do new technologies improve efficiency and reduce costs, but Doty noted that employees also expect the company to adopt and use the best technologies available, so that they can perform their jobs more effectively and maintain a positive work-life balance.
Specific new technologies being adopted include advanced robotics and digital twins, according to Scott Theune, President of Plexus. Digital twins are realtime digital counterparts that allow workers to troubleshoot equipment virtually.
In addition to improving efficiency, these new technologies also play a critical role in making manufacturing facilities safer. Improved safety has been a big benefit as industry growth and the skills gap has spurred the need for more automation, noted Andrew Martin, Senior Director of Manufacturing for Generac.
Leaders throughout industry agree: Industry 4.0 is here to stay. According to Michael DeBroux, Senior Mechanical & Automation Engineer and Engineering Supervisor of Greenheck Fan Corporation, “We need to make sure that we are getting personnel and new talent into our company that speaks modern manufacturing languages and is familiar with Industry 4.0 fundamentals.”
OT and IT are Converging in Industry 4.0
According to an i-SCOOP article, “It’s impossible to talk about the evolutions in manufacturing, industrial transformation and Industry 4.0, innovations in areas such as Industrial IoT without mentioning the convergence of IT and OT.”
Historically, operational technology (OT) has referred to “a category of computing and communication systems to manage, monitor and control industrial operations with a focus on the physical devices and processes they use.”
Information technology (IT), on the other hand, “is about business and enterprise systems that store, process and deliver information.” Because Industry 4.0 technologies are becoming more and more commonplace throughout traditional OT equipment, cybersecurity becomes more critical every year.
According to Jim Molter, IT Manager – Smart Factory Deployment of Kohler Co., “Industry 4.0 is forcing us to break down those silos and start to learn to work together…that’s where we’re headed. There’s not going to be a distinction [between OT and IT] anymore.”
Educational Institutions Play a Key Role in Preparing Industry 4.0 Workers
When experts evaluate strategies for bridging the skills gap, it’s clear that educational institutions must play a key role in preparing students for Industry 4.0 careers. But can they do it alone?
The answer is no. Educational institutions must partner with industry counterparts to ensure that the knowledge and skills they’re teaching will produce students with the valuable skills that industries around the country need.
Anne Troka, Community Engagement Manager for Sargento Foods Incorporated, explains a successful approach she helped to develop called Manufacturing 4.0:
“We started conversations with…four schools and four businesses [to] build a partnership to help students — our future workforce — connect with our businesses to really get skills that we need and skills that the students will need…to make them employable in a variety of different careers, because Manufacturing 4.0 is in manufacturing as well as many other industries.”
To date, the partnership has helped to design and build five courses to prepare students for Industry 4.0 careers, including subject areas like mechatronics, industrial controls, robotics, and the Internet of Things. Eventually, students will also be able to earn SACA certifications related to their coursework. In this way, “we’re really connecting education to [career] success,” concludes Troka.
Industry 4.0 Also Requires Upskilling Current Employees
Unfortunately, employers can’t wait for the next generation of highly-skilled workers to emerge from high school or college. As Anthony Ebio, Director of Industry 4.0 Learning for Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., noted, schools simply aren’t “cranking out the learning and the students fast enough.”
That’s why Ashley Furniture has invested heavily in upskilling its current employees so that they have the advanced skills they need to work with new Industry 4.0 technologies. Ebio noted that they used SACA certifications as a guide when setting up training for incumbent workers: “We found ourselves leveraging a lot of the SACA structure to make sure that we have [curriculum] to support Industry 4.0.”
Other companies are following suit. Ken Evans, Associate Maintenance Manager for S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., noted that S.C. Johnson has partnered with Gateway Technical College to upskill its employees with an eye toward achieving SACA certifications.
So far both young and older employees have been excited about the prospect of learning and gaining new skills. Plus, using SACA certifications as a guide has allowed current employees to see a payoff for their hard work quickly. According to Evans, “under SACA, [current employees] can get incremental steps of recognition and be proud of it, and we’re proud of them.”
SACA Brings It All Together
If the current skills gap plaguing industries across the world is to be bridged, strategic partnerships between industry and educational institutions must be forged. Schools must begin to produce a pipeline of highly-skilled workers ready to work in an Industry 4.0 environment.
Likewise, industry must upskill its current workforce with the advanced skills needed to operate, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair the Industry 4.0 automation technologies taking over the factory floor.
According to Michael Cook, Director of Global Academic Partnerships for Platinum SACA Sponsor Rockwell Automation, Inc., “no one company can really do this alone…SACA is providing significant leadership here…ensuring that there’s a close fidelity between the academic space as well as what we find relevant in industry. That alignment is a significant part of what SACA brings.”
To learn more about Industry 4.0 certifications and how SACA can help both educational institutions and industry employers begin the task of bridging the Industry 4.0 skills gap, visit the SACA website and then contact SACA for more information.
What types of products do you buy online? Today, the answer to that question for many people is just about anything and everything. Things haven’t always been that way, though.
In the earliest days of e-commerce, consumers got their feet wet in the online marketplace purchasing products that were known quantities that could be shipped safely and cheaply. More personal items, such as clothing and shoes, retained a foothold in brick-and-mortar stores where customers could try things on to ensure a good fit.
Fast forward to today and it’s easy to see how drastically e-commerce has changed the retail landscape. Some people now purchase all of their goods exclusively online. There are still certain areas, though, where e-commerce has been slow to gain traction. For example, the food industry has yet to replace a trip to the grocery store with an online experience…until recently.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed much about how we live our lives, including that once-simple trip to the grocery store. Now, more and more people are doing their grocery shopping online or via a smartphone app and having their groceries delivered directly to their car at the store.
As a result, the food industry finds itself in need of a transformation to respond to changing realities driven by consumer demand. Experts believe that transformation will come through a variety of new smart manufacturing technologies.
Consumer Demand Driving Changes
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, no one fully understood the ways in which our lives would change over the course of the coming months. Routine, everyday tasks, such as shopping for groceries, were suddenly fraught with the potential for exposure to the deadly virus.
Retail grocers were faced with simultaneously managing intense supply chain disruptions that left many shelves bare and customers who wanted as little contact with other shoppers as possible. The solution for many was to pair online shopping (often via an app) with curbside delivery.
Shopping for food online was a new experience for most customers. It didn’t take long, however, for most people to figure out that they could compare prices across various stores just like they would for any other online purchase.
The effect of these changes on the food industry has been significant. As author Katy Askew notes in a recent FoodNavigator article, the food industry is being forced “to rapidly adapt their processes and products to keep up with changing markets” resulting from “elevated consumer expectations.”
Smart Manufacturing to the Rescue
How can food and beverage companies keep up with these rapid changes? Askew spoke with Andrew Smith, Regional Segment Leader – Process & Packaging OEMs at Rockwell Automation, which recently became a Platinum Member of the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA).
According to Smith, “To remain competitive, food and beverage manufacturing systems must optimize productivity and perform at the highest standard. This requires comprehensive and continuous operations improvement.” Increasingly, the food industry is turning to smart manufacturing to achieve those goals.
Smith believes in the potential of smart manufacturing:
“Connected, information-enabled manufacturing – or smart manufacturing – can make all the difference. New technologies are helping food and beverage manufacturers better understand and use their food processing operations. Smart manufacturing can help improve asset utilization, increase yield, drive workforce productivity, optimize resource management, and mitigate security risks.”
Not convinced yet? Smith points to Hillshire Brands as a prime example of what smart manufacturing can do. After the company began using a manufacturing intelligence system at a Texas plant, “the food manufacturer reduced inedible product and waste goals to 0.8% – saving about 5.5 million corn dogs per year.”
Technologies Changing the Game
The impact of smart technologies is not lost on the average person today. Whether it’s the smartphone in your hand or the smart thermostat keeping your home the perfect temperature, nearly every aspect of life has been impacted by advances in technology
Modern manufacturers are no exception, including food and beverage companies. According to Smith, “New developments in technology are redefining food and beverage manufacturing. By combining the Internet of Things, wireless and mobile technologies, data analytics, and network infrastructure, companies can access and act on the data from their operations before a potential problem arises.”
Askew notes in her article that Smith identified five advanced technologies he believes will drive greater adoption of smart manufacturing technologies in the food industry:
Flexible manufacturing focuses on how quickly a company can adapt to change. As Matt Graves and Rachel Wilson explain in an article on the Rockwell Automation blog, “It’s about creating a seamless flow from need to delivery. True flexibility empowers manufacturers to stay in tune with their market, by replacing rigid and static operating models with levels of control and responsiveness never previously thought possible.”
When it comes to integrating new technologies, though, the authors stress that companies must not forget about the people using those technologies:
“When it comes to embracing Industry 4.0, integration between departments is key. While new technology can bring data and systems together, getting your people to communicate/collaborate is just as important – and absolutely essential if you want to gain the maximum return on investment.”
As Askew notes in her article, “Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that allows users to view and interact with real-world environments through computer generated superimposed images. It enables workers to perform better and avoid safety and compliance risks by providing easy access to the information they need online.”
In smart manufacturing, companies use AR to help technicians troubleshoot problems in real time. For example, maintenance personnel can use an AR app on a smartphone or tablet to zero in on exactly what component of a machine may be malfunctioning and develop a solution more quickly, thereby reducing equipment downtime.
The heart of smart manufacturing is the collection, processing, analysis, and application of the tremendous amounts of data (sometimes called “big data”) generated by the production process. According to Askew, companies will use “powerful machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics software to offer predictive and prescriptive maintenance.”
Practically, this means that machines equipped with smart sensors can monitor their own performance. Technicians will receive alerts from machines when maintenance needs are imminent, allowing them to maintain and repair equipment before breakdowns occur, thereby reducing downtime and increasing productivity.
A Rockwell Automation article explains edge computing in this way:
“Edge computing combines a machine’s control and computing hardware into one platform, either with a controller that has a built-in computer or with a computing module that sits on the same rack as the controller. With this two-in-one approach, you can put all your machine’s digital content — such as custom code, the controller’s human-machine interface (HMI) application and any third-party software programs — right where the controller resides, rather than in another location. This creates inherent benefits for end users, including space savings and access to data right at its source. But it also creates new opportunities for you to build entirely new solutions for production applications.”
According to Askew, “Edge computing will complement existing cloud infrastructure by enabling real-time data processing where work is done (for example, motors, pumps, generators, or other sensors). Implementing integrated analytics from the edge to the cloud will help these companies maximize the value of investments in digital systems.”
Digital Twin/Digital Thread
In addition to augmented reality apps, companies are also using advanced digital tools to assist with troubleshooting, such as digital twins and the Digital Thread. According to Askew, a digital twin is “the collection of data created in software representing a real-life system. Machines, controllers, processes, workflow, and any other aspect of a system can be represented digitally, without any interruption to ongoing activities.”
Similar to a digital twin, the Digital Thread “creates a virtual representation of how data travels within a company. The Digital Thread enables supervisory enhancements throughout the supply chain, including delivery of work instructions to operators, quality control sampling, and automated activation of components and materials from vendors, suppliers, and partners”
What can these technologies do for the food industry? Askew paints an interesting view of a future that’s probably a lot closer than we think:
“In the near future, we will see that by interconnecting business systems through the Digital Thread, companies will practically start up new production lines. Using the digital twins, manufacturers will run machines virtually before parts are ordered, discover control issues before support personnel review them, predict future performance challenges and opportunities, simulate line changes to stay keep up with changing customer demands, and will train new staff in non-stop systems of activity.”
SACA Certifications Validate Industry 4.0 Skills
Employees in the food and beverage industry would do well to complement their current skillset with advanced Industry 4.0 skills that will help them change and grow with advances in technology. For those workers wanting to specialize in Industry 4.0 technologies, the certifications offered by the Smart Automation Certification Alliance are a great place to start. SACA offers industry-standard certifications that focus on “connected systems” skills. To learn more about the different types of SACA certifications, visit SACA online.
Michael Cook, Rockwell Automation’s Director Global Academic Partnerships, recently endorsed the Smart Automation Certification Alliance’s efforts to create standards to ensure industry that potential employees possess up-to-date Industry 4.0 skillsets.
Rockwell Automation has also joined SACA as a Platinum Member, which allows them to offer SACA certifications to their employees and provide scholarships to sponsor educational institutions and teachers when they start new certification programs in Industry 4.0. This commitment will impact the standards and future direction of the certifications, and promote the leadership in Industry 4.0 education.
“Technology disruption is widening the gap between student learning and industry relevance of learning. At the same time, it is also shortening the shelf life of degrees and opening up variable pathways of learning. To narrow this gap we are actively participating with the Smart Automation Certification Alliance and other industry stakeholders working alongside education to create relevant standards around Industry 4.0 and more importantly access to relevant stackable learning.”
Director Global Academic Partnerships
Are you a technical education instructor that keeps hearing from your students that they need to get a job before they finish their degree? Do they possess a proficiency in areas like basic electrical skills, mechanical drives, industrial networks, robot operation, and more that could land them a job while they work on their degree, and they just need documented verification of their proficiency? You should look into the Smart Automation Certification Alliance’s micro-credentials!
SACA’s micro-credentials are hyper-focused, competency-based certificates that verify proof of knowledge and skills. Micro-credentials offer a streamlined way to document what your students know so that they can contribute to the local industrial workforce right away. Basically, micro-credentials do not measure how long you study or how many courses you take; they measure your understanding of a topic and your ability to demonstrate your skill-based competency of the subject.
If micro-credentials interest you, the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is your answer to prove that your students possess the necessary skills to be successful in an Industry 4.0 manufacturing environment. SACA micro-credentials verify that an individual possesses basic industrial skills such as electrical, mechanical, fluid power, rigging, and welding all the way through advanced robot system integration, Industry 4.0 data analytics, and network security. Eventually, these micro-credentials stack into an industrial certification that demonstrates your skills and knowledge to current and future employers across multiple industrial disciplines.
To view a multimedia version of ‘Helpful tips on how to build a smart automation résumé‘, please click here.
New year, new you – right?
With the end of 2020 approaching quickly, many are circling Jan. 1, 2021 as an opportunity to improve their happiness and wellbeing. For some, that signals a career change – a way to improve on their daily professional grind.
While COVID-19 has made the job market volatile, there are still careers out there with jobs waiting for people to apply for them. And some of those jobs happen to fall into a sector known as Smart Automation.
What is Smart Automation?
While some know the term as “smart automation”, it goes by many different monikers: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, Smart Factory, and many more.
Essentially, smart automation is the use of machines, control systems, and information technologies to optimize productivity and improve efficiency in the production of goods and delivery of services. From building automobiles to sewing buttons on a shirt, it is used all around the world to improve the speed and quality of manufacturing. However, what makes the automation “smart” is a lot like the same idea used when describing smartphones: we are connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows devices to communicate with other devices via the Internet.
This has ushered in a brand new way of manufacturing, which many are viewing as the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which explains the name Industry 4.0. Smart automation holds the potential for a massive impact on industrial efficiency and proficiency. By combining cyber-physical systems, automation, and the Internet of Things, companies can begin to create a smart factory environment, which could include a team of robots communicating with each other (and human workers) to report on a wide variety of information, such as cycle times, mechanical breakdowns, predictive maintenance, and more.
Why should I be interested in a career in Smart Automation?
While the real boost behind smart automation involves robots and self-driving vehicles, it does not leave human workers out in the cold. As an increase in usage of robots happens, low-skill assembly line-type jobs will begin to fade out, making ways for new careers that have never existed before.
The demand for these highly-skilled workers that can program, analyze, and maintain many parts of these complex systems is so tremendous that companies are having difficulty finding candidates to accept these careers in manufacturing, which has led to a sector-wide hiring struggle, known as the Skills Gap. This means these jobs – many of which are high-paying – are going unfilled due to the lack of qualified workers.
But smart automation doesn’t just live on an assembly line floor. In fact, thanks to the use of smart sensors, smart devices, and other new cutting-edge technologies, which possess the ability to create an enormous amount of data to be monitored and shared via cloud technology, many of the jobs available today require just as much knowledge on IT and cyber-security as any other typical manufacturing skill.
How do I build a résumé for jobs that don’t exist?
Like most jobs, you don’t pick a career by simply liking its name or title: you pick your career based on the skills that you’re good at, or enjoy doing. So with that in mind, here are four tips on how you can improve your smart automation résumé:
Tip #1: Spotlight on your “smart” skillset
By highlighting your “smart” skills – and highly-coveted personal skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and others – as opposed to a particular job’s title, you will be more adept to finding the ideal job for your skillset.
So when constructing your résumé, put an emphasis on your “smart” skillset that showcases you have the specific knowledge and know-how for the skills they are looking for. According to a recent study by Deloitte, many of the future jobs will revolve around these skills:
Tip #2: Include a focused professional summary statement
When introducing yourself through your résumé’s Professional Summary section, include any pertinent industry-needed skills that were called out in the company’s job listing. (Called “value proposition”, highlighting a collection of skills you can provide curated to a particular business or position makes you a more attractive candidate in the process.)
Be straightforward in explaining your skillset, and what you can offer this specific company. Not only will it showcase your most important attributes as early in the review process as possible, but it will also prove to the company that you took the time to study the job listing, not just submitting résumés blindly without reading.
Also, focus on strong character traits that prove your experience, and back it up with accomplishments. Remember to show, not just tell, examples of how you can improve their bottom line. If warranted, consider a compelling statement that describes your current (or previous) profession, especially if they include the “buzzword” skills a company is specifically looking for.
Tip #3: Don’t overlook your training – it matters!
Whether it’s your first career in industry, or you’re retooling for a future position or promotion, training in smart automation matters. From the bedrock knowledge of automation, to understanding all of the safety protocols around these automated machines, having industry-relevant training is critical for positions like these.
So when compiling your previous academic or professional experience, make sure to list any related classroom experience, as well as specific courses that pertain to the position you’re applying for – remembering to focus on your skillset.
If it applies to you, consider adding any apprenticeships, mentorships, or other non-traditional means of training. Don’t overlook any of your training, no matter how menial you might think it is.
Tip #4: Certifications can make (or break) your job search
Let’s be honest here: if Candidate A and Candidate B both have similar skillsets, experience, and recommendations – but only one of them holds an industry-recognized Industry 4.0 certification – it should be pretty clear who is going to get the first job offer.
Most Industry 4.0 or Smart Certifications can showcase to businesses that you are trained under the standard guidelines established by industry leaders. In fact, most companies will prioritize candidates that hold an official industrial certification from an industry-recognized institute, like SACA, for example.
Since these certifications play such a crucial role in the hiring process, consider upping your training regime to include industry-recognized smart credentials.
Getting involved with Industry 4.0 is a “smart” bet
In summary, it’s simple: Industry 4.0 jobs are aplenty, high-paying, and there for the taking.
But they’re not for everybody. These jobs take a specific skillset that rely heavily upon critical thinking and problem-solving. The challenges, though, should not dissuade someone from pursuing a career in smart automation. Instead, it highlights the pressing need for qualified workers in this field of work, and the unlimited possibilities these positions could bring to a world of “smart” manufacturing.
LOUISVILLE, KY—OCTOBER 14, 2020
Industries across the United States have been struggling for years to fill open positions with qualified workers. Despite widespread recognition of the problems industries face, the skills gap has continued to widen.
Rather than bringing new solutions, 2020 instead saw a global pandemic make an already-tough jobs situation worse. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, millions of American workers have lost their jobs, many of them permanently.
As the U.S. seeks to recover from “the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression,” there is no shortage of problems that must be addressed and solutions that need to be formulated. How effective those solutions are will dictate the speed and scope of economic recovery.
Unlike past economic recovery initiatives that often pushed people toward college degrees, experts believe that our current economic recovery from the COVID-19 Recession must instead focus on practical skill development for jobs industries need. To that end, community colleges and skills training may play a critical role.
Another potential solution with a proven track record of success is apprenticeship. In fact, many believe new industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) will provide fresh opportunities for both American workers and industries that desperately need skilled talent. How? IRAPs will expand the use of the apprenticeship model to industries that haven’t used it or have underutilized it in the past.
What Are IRAPs?
So what exactly are IRAPs anyway? According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Apprenticeship.gov website:
“Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs are high-quality apprenticeship programs recognized as such by a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) pursuant to the DOL’s standards. These programs provide individuals with opportunities to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively advancing skills. IRAPs include a paid-work component and an educational component and result in an industry-recognized credential. An IRAP is developed or delivered by entities such as trade and industry groups, corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, unions, and joint labor-management organizations.”
For example, the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) was recognized as one of 18 initial organizations designated as an SRE by the DOL on September 23, 2020. SACA may now evaluate and recognize IRAPs consistent with DOL standards.
What are those standards? According to the DOL’s IRAP Fact Sheet, high-quality IRAPs must meet the following 10 requirements:
- Paid Work
- Written Training Plan
- Written Apprenticeship Agreement
- Specialized Knowledge and Experience
- Equal Employment Opportunity
- Credit for Prior Knowledge
- Industry-Recognized Credentials
- Disclosure of Costs and Fees.
When Were IRAPs Created?
IRAPs are a relatively-new solution in the area of workforce development. Their history can be traced back to June 15, 2017, when President Trump issued an Executive Order to Expand Apprenticeships in America.
According to a DOL press release, the order established the 20-member Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which was “headed by the Secretary of Labor and co-chaired by the Secretaries of Commerce and Education.”
The DOL’s IRAP Fact Sheet notes that the president’s order “directed the Secretary to consider proposing regulations that promote the development of apprenticeship programs by third parties…especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.”
The Task Force subsequently recommended the establishment of IRAPs in May 2018. Eventually, as the IRAP Fact Sheet notes:
“To address America’s skills gap and to rapidly increase the availability of high-quality apprenticeship programs in sectors where apprenticeship opportunities are not widespread, the [DOL] has issued a Final Rule that establishes a system for advancing the development of high-quality IRAPs.”
IRAPs then became official when new regulations took effect on May 11, 2020.
How Do IRAPs Differ from Traditional Apprenticeships?
According to a recent Forbes article by Ryan Craig:
“For years, policy makers have struggled with the question of how to expand apprenticeships from traditional blue collar building and industrial trades to fast-growing sectors like technology, healthcare, and professional services. On a per capita basis, the U.S. is far behind other nations: Germany has nearly 20x as many apprentices, and the UK has 14x.”
Craig further notes that the goal of IRAPs is:
“to increase the number of actual American apprentices from 500,000 to 5 million by decentralizing apprenticeship authority from the DOL to hundreds of third party IRAP authorizers [SREs]…The expectation is that while DOL registered apprenticeships are infamous for the amount of paperwork required, IRAPs will be much less onerous and therefore more popular.”
Rather than taking apprenticeships in an entirely new direction, IRAPS are “intended to run in tandem with the department’s long-established registered apprenticeship program,” according to an article from the Community College Daily website. Indeed, the DOL’s IRAP FAQ clearly notes:
“IRAPs and RAPs [Registered Apprenticeship Programs] will work on parallel tracks with the support of the Department. The Registered Apprenticeship system has produced successful results in many industries for over 80 years and it will continue to do so. The industry-led, market-driven approach outlined in the IRAP final rule will give employers and other stakeholders the additional flexibility necessary to expand the apprenticeship model into new industries where registered programs are less prevalent and to address the diverse workforce needs of different industries and occupations. IRAPs provide a new apprenticeship pathway that lets industry organizations take the lead in identifying high-quality apprenticeship programs and opportunities based on the needs in their industry.”
Consistent with the goal of expanding the apprenticeship model to new industries, one notable difference between IRAPs and RAPs is that SREs are prohibited from recognizing IRAPs in the construction industry. According to article by Katie Spiker from the National Skills Coalition:
“This carve out was…the subject of a massive campaign by the building trades unions…According to proponents of the construction industry exclusion, and the Department in their justification of excluding construction in the final IRAP rule, the fact that the majority of U.S. apprenticeships are in the construction industry is evidence the model is effective for the industry and that expanding IRAPs to construction is not necessary to meet the goal of expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.”
Who Will Benefit from IRAPs?
The DOL clearly outlines a set of expected benefits to both workers and businesses in its IRAP Fact Sheet. For businesses, the DOL expects IRAPs to:
- provide an additional pathway to assist career seekers and job creators;
- serve the needs of business by expanding apprenticeships across more industries;
- use innovative, industry-driven approaches to scale a proven workforce education model;
- allow more flexibility to design apprenticeship programs that meet business needs; and
- supply an immediate pool of workers for today and skilled talent for tomorrow.
For workers, IRAPs are expected to:
- offer opportunities to earn and learn, while obtaining valuable, portable, industry-recognized, competency-based credentials;
- provide training in standards that are developed by the industry, ensuring an apprentice develops the skillset needed for career success;
- increase the opportunities for apprenticeship programs across all sectors in the economy; and
- provide an alternative to college for finding career success that allows workers to obtain high paying jobs without going into debt.
Katie Spiker echoes the view that both workers and businesses should benefit from IRAPs: “The IRAP initiative is evidence of the need to modernize apprenticeship, expand access to workers to earn industry-recognized credentials and allow businesses to play more of a role in helping tailor the kind of training their workers receive to meet their specific needs.”
While traditional registered apprenticeship programs have been successful for years, Roy Maurer notes in a recent article for SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, that “only about 0.2 percent of the U.S. workforce has taken advantage of the programs, primarily in trades and construction.” The DOL believes IRAPs “will effectively expand apprenticeship in telecommunications, health care, cybersecurity and other sectors where it’s currently not widely used.”
Rachel Greszler, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, believes the benefits to workers are clear:
“The [IRAPs] rule is an important step in opening up more nontraditional and affordable education opportunities that could particularly benefit younger Americans who have been left behind by America’s higher-education system, as well as current workers who have been negatively impacted by changes in industry and technology. It’s not in everyone’s best interest to pursue an expensive four-year college education, and these types of apprenticeships make it possible for individuals to obtain the education they need for a promising career without taking on debt, and instead, actually being paid in the process.”
As U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia summarized in a DOL press release:
“As workers seek to reenter the workforce following the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, [IRAPs] and the SREs that recognize them will provide new opportunities for Americans to earn a living while learning the skills needed in a changing job market.”
Where Can I Learn More About IRAPs?
According to Ryan Craig:
“There are millions of unemployed workers whose jobs are unlikely to return once the pandemic subsides. So one of the most important policy questions in America today is how they’ll find paths back to work…If there is an answer, apprenticeships will almost certainly play a leading role.”
If you want to learn more about IRAPs and the SREs who will be helping to bring them to life, be sure to check out the DOL’s Apprenticeship.gov website. The latest information and developments will be posted there as IRAPs take shape and begin to fulfill the goal of expanding apprenticeships into new industries while helping workers gain new skills.
On September 23rd, 2020, the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) was one of 18 initial organizations designated as a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) by the United States Department of Labor. This designation allows SACA to “evaluate and recognize high-quality IRAPs (Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs) consistent with the Department’s standards.” IRAPs are vital for industry as they are eligible for workforce development funds, so the training cost to the company can be offset.
This designation also allows SACA to work with companies and/or schools and non-profits that work with companies to create and build IRAPs that are aligned to both local industry needs and industry-recognized credentials.
What is an SRE?
Apprenticeship.gov states that a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) is a third-party organization such as a trade group, company, educational institution, government agency, nonprofit organization, union, etc. that is designated by the United States Department of Labor to recognize apprenticeship programs as IRAPs. SREs were created to, “expand apprenticeship opportunities in industries where apprenticeships have been underutilized.” As examples of what SREs are responsible for, SREs will recognize or reject IRAPs, provide IRAP program and performance data to the Office of Apprenticeship, and establish policies and procedures for recognizing and validating compliance of IRAPs.
Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAPs) are high-quality apprenticeships programs that have been approved by Department of Labor Standards Recognition Entities (SRE) and delivered by, “trade and industry groups, corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, unions, and joint labor-management organizations.” The purpose of IRAPs is to provide individuals with paid work and training – complete with an industry-recognized credential – within industries where a skills gap is present in order to strengthen both the workforce and industry. High-quality IRAPs must meet requirements such as: providing paid work, having a written training plan, providing a safe work environment, being an Equal Employment Opportunity position, giving credit for prior knowledge, providing mentorship, and linking the program to industry-recognized credentials, to name a few.
Everyone has taken courses from YouTube University. They encounter car repairs, home projects, or coding errors that they’re unable to fix with their current bank of knowledge, so they search YouTube for videos with intricate explanations and tutorials in order to learn solutions. This act is an informal version of what is referred to as “upskilling” – learning new skills in order to fill a personal knowledge gap in order to accomplish new tasks.
On the other hand, the world is full of people that are well versed in areas that aren’t their profession. Maybe you know an accountant that can repair anything on their car or a math teacher that can install a new electrical outlet in a house.
One thing that these two groups share: no one is going to find them when Google searching “mechanics near me” or “nearby electricians.” When people need a mechanic or an electrician, they want someone with credentials.
Attaining credentials usually involves multi-year degree programs or apprenticeships, which are great for people with no background in a subject. But what’s out there for people that already possess most of the knowledge and skills being taught in those programs? It’s a waste of time and money to send them back to square one because, “that’s how the program works.” And with technological development and adoption speeding up, areas like manufacturing and industry needs something that moves with the speed of change. Enter Micro-Credentials.
What are Micro-Credentials?
Micro-credentials are hyper-focused, competency-based certificates that verify proof of knowledge and skills. These certificates are meant to supplement degrees and advanced training, not replace them. Basically, micro-credentials do not measure how long you study or how many courses you take; they measure your understanding of a topic and your ability to demonstrate your skill-based competency of the subject. Micro-credentials are also modular, so people can use them to focus on improving skill weaknesses and prove their competency without having to rehash areas that they already know.
What are Stackable Micro-Credentials?
Speaking of modularity, another feature of micro-credentials is that they’re stackable, which is perfect for people in many scenarios. So what’s a stackable credential? As defined by the U.S. Department of Labor, stackable credentials are “part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time and move an individual along a career pathway or up a career ladder.” So for someone looking to move up the ladder, they can immediately attain credentials for areas where they are already proficient and then continue to add on new credentials as they learn new skills, which will show management a documented interest in continuing education and a commitment to professional growth.
These stackable credentials are also helpful for someone looking to find a new job in the field. They might have years of experience but nothing to verify to a new employer that they are indeed skilled in different areas and disciples. Micro-credentials offer a streamlined way to document someone’s skills without having to start over in a multi-year degree program. Micro-credentials give you immediate credit for things that you already know how to do!
In a third scenario, someone might be downsized from a fading industry and want a fresh start in a new business sector. Micro-credentials provide bite-size documentation of proficiency as this individual builds new skills. If this person wants to enter the manufacturing industry, they could take a handful of foundational courses at a local community college in areas like basic mechanical, basic fluid power, and basic electrical, and then earn corresponding micro-credentials, which would probably be enough to gain an entry-level position. Then the person can continue earning more advanced micro-credentials while they work and learn new skills or take more classes. Eventually, these micro-credentials would stack into an industrial certification that would demonstrate the person’s skill and knowledge to current and future employers across multiple industrial disciplines.
Why are Micro-Credentials Becoming Popular in Manufacturing?
As stated, micro-credentials are important for providing proof of knowledge among any workforce but they are vitally important within the world of manufacturing at the moment because manufacturing is undergoing a new industrial revolution, commonly referred to as Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things, or Smart Factory. Industry 4.0 takes traditional industrial applications and connects them using wireless internet to produce constant feedback on a variety of metrics including process efficiency, equipment downtime, predictive maintenance tasks, and more!
Employees with years of experience in manufacturing understand the basic technologies, but Industry 4.0 is introducing new technologies and applications that are beyond their scope of knowledge. It doesn’t make sense to start this group over in a bloated training program that begins with basic electrical, mechanical, or fluid power skills. Nor will it make sense for a business to stand still with a workforce that’s not keeping up with new technology as it’s adopted. This is where micro-credentials and SACA can help.
SACA: Certifying the Workforce for Industry 4.0
The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is the answer for both education and industry to prove that the manufacturing workforce possesses the necessary skills to be successful in an Industry 4.0 environment. SACA certifications are industry-driven, developed through a rigorous process that begins with truly international skill standards and is endorsed by leading experts in Industry 4.0 technologies throughout the world. SACA’s Smart Automation certifications use a modular structure – including micro-credentials – to enable them to fit a wide range of individual needs, industries, and educational environments. SACA micro-credentials verify that an individual possesses basic industrial skills such as electrical, mechanical, fluid power, rigging, and welding all the way through advanced robot system integration, Industry 4.0 data analytics, and network security.
The world of manufacturing is changing. Gone are the days of dirty, dingy factories. The new shop floor is full of robots, smart components, wireless networks, and Big Data. SACA is the answer to ensuring that the workforce of tomorrow understands these new advances – as well as the basics of industry – and can demonstrate their competency in real-world industrial environments.
The evolution of automated technology continues to transform the world’s industrial workplaces in countless ways and there’s no sign of this industrial metamorphosis losing momentum. As Industry 4.0 technology adoption increases, how do companies ensure that potential and current employees have the necessary skills to keep up? Many employers use certifications as a measure of competency, but credentials for Industry 4.0 technology and skills are often tied to specific brands of equipment. But why limit the training spectrum by using a specific brand? How does this make sense when facilities use equipment from multiple brands on their shop floor? What about something more universal, like a certification for job tasks regardless of the equipment used on the manufacturing floor?
The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), a non-profit organization with the mission to develop and deploy modular Industry 4.0 certifications for a wide range of industries, was founded to aid companies that need employees that are fully versed in cutting-edge Industry 4.0 skills. Working with industry leaders to develop these standards and certifications, SACA built industry-driven credentials with input from companies like FANUC, Rockwell Automation, the Hershey Company, Ashley Furniture Industries, and many others. SACA is also designated as a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) by the United States Department of Labor.
SACA Certifications: Built for Industry by Industry
Developing the certifications was a rigorous process. Beginning with the creation of truly international skill standards, SACA worked with industry leaders and experts in Industry 4.0 technologies to make a set of credentials that certify an individual’s mastery of advanced manufacturing and Industry 4.0 job tasks. SACA conducts annual reviews for the certifications ensuring that they remain current as technologies and processes continue to evolve at a rapid pace. By focusing on job tasks and the skills required to perform those tasks, SACA’s certifications give employers assurance when they’re hiring new employees, provide proof of competency for those seeking jobs with companies that have adopted Industry 4.0 technologies, and provide schools and colleges with the confidence that they’re teaching relevant skills.
Who Benefits from SACA Certifications?
Whether you’re training individuals to become technicians, IT professionals, automation engineers, or numerous other smart factory-related careers, SACA certifications equip students and employees to become highly successful professionals in Industry 4.0 environments. SACA offers certifications in three stackable categories: Associate, Specialist, & Professional. These certifications use a modular structure that provides flexibility to fit a wide range of individual needs, industries, and educational environments.
Additionally, the Specialist and Professional-level certifications contain stackable micro-credentials that build upon each other to complete comprehensive certifications. For example, an individual can begin earning micro-credentials for electrical systems, pneumatic systems, robotic operations and many more, which would eventually stack up to SACA’S Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I credential.
Or companies can use individual micro-credentials to verify that their workforce is up-to-date with the latest technologies and skills to close any skill gaps that already exist. With so many choices in micro-credentials, individuals can quickly transform into versatile team members that can help with a variety of smart factory applications.
Because these certifications are modular, schools and industrial training facilities can select the certifications and micro-credentials that best meet the needs in their community or company. In many cases, there’s no need to purchase additional training equipment to prepare for the certifications. Many of the skills and micro-credentials from SACA rely on equipment schools or training centers may already have.
How Can Someone Get a SACA Certification?
To attain SACA certifications, individuals must be employees or students of a SACA member institution. Individuals can prepare for the online examination using any text, online courses, or other means that align with the standards. Individuals passing the written examination receive a Silver Credential. Individuals can also demonstrate hands-on competencies on industrial-grade equipment that they’ll see in the workplace. If someone passes both the written and hands-on examinations, they will receive a SACA Gold-level Credential.
SACA certification examinations and hands-on testing are performed at SACA Authorized Testing Centers. Organizations can become a testing center by becoming a SACA member.
How Do I Become a SACA Member? What Are the Benefits of SACA Membership?
SACA offers membership for both educational institutions and industry, so professionals representing those organizations that are interested in membership can reach out to SACA on SACA.org. Educational memberships for high schools and colleges enable these institutions to become authorized certification centers, deliver free certifications to students, and stay informed about the latest developments in Industry 4.0 technology. Companies get all of the aforementioned benefits of educational memberships with additional incentives unlocked by different levels of industry membership. For instance, companies that are Silver Members and above will have a portion of their membership fee designated for named scholarships to sponsor educational institutions and teachers starting new Industry 4.0 certification programs.
Contact SACA Today to Learn More
Industry 4.0 is here and being rapidly adopted by companies around the globe. If students, employees, and companies aren’t preparing and keeping up with this wave of big data, they’ll get swept away by the competition. SACA can help all of the above to adapt and prepare for success. Fill out a contact form to learn how to join SACA, where to find testing sites, and how to get certifications in the hands of your students and employees.
LOUISVILLE, KY—AUGUST 17, 2020
The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is pleased to announce that it has recently entered into an agreement with Macomb Community College and ATS Midwest to support the college’s efforts to align its education and training to meet the realities of Industry 4.0. Students completing Macomb’s advanced manufacturing programs will soon earn SACA certifications, giving them a competitive advantage in today’s job market.
Today’s students face a far different world of advanced manufacturing than existed a decade ago. While automation technologies have been commonplace for many years, the Internet has brought about a convergence of new “connected” technologies that is revolutionizing how products are made.
Known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, this latest disruption of the advanced manufacturing world is resulting in reduced downtime and increased quality, productivity, and overall efficiency in industries of all kinds thanks to advanced technologies that make up what is known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
IIoT technologies include such things as advanced robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and machines, cloud-based data analysis, and cybersecurity. As companies increase their use of networks and Internet technologies, they are connecting more devices, from smart sensors to smartphones.
As a result, these highly-connected systems require new skills in almost every occupation. To succeed in an Industry 4.0 environment, current workers and today’s students must learn to interact with software, data, networks, and smart devices.
While there are many certifications available today that address isolated competencies, from machining to maintenance and information technology (IT), SACA certifications are different. SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications certify “connected systems” skills that address the integration of the many types of advanced manufacturing technologies with Industry 4.0 technology.
SACA’s Industry 4.0 certifications have been developed for industry by industry through a rigorous process that began with the creation of truly international skill standards. These standards have been endorsed by leading experts in Industry 4.0 technologies around the world.
Working with forward-thinking institutions like Macomb will enable SACA to accomplish its vision to provide highly-affordable, accessible Industry 4.0 certifications that significantly increase the number of individuals who possess the skills represented by these credentials.
The result will be an increasing number of students prepared to be successful in an Industry 4.0 world, as well as more companies that have the highly-skilled workers they need. Don Hutchison, Macomb’s Dean of Engineering and Advanced Technology, agrees:
In southeast Michigan, industry already needs employees who understand how advanced manufacturing systems integrate. At Macomb, we are listening to industry and creating training for individuals and industry that meets the challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0. Arming Macomb’s graduates with SACA certification signifies to employers that they are prepared to successfully navigate the complex, integrated nature of today’s manufacturing environment.
Fortunately, Macomb also enjoys the support of local industry. Tom Kelly, Executive Director and CEO of Automation Alley, Michigan’s leading manufacturing and technology business association and Industry 4.0 knowledge center, supports Macomb’s vision:
It is encouraging to see Macomb Community College commit to Industry 4.0 training, which will help to ensure industry receives graduates with employable skills. Today, technology is moving at an accelerated pace which requires a new set of working skills. If our state is to keep pace and maintain a global leadership position in manufacturing, we must transform and continuously develop our talent pipeline.
SACA looks forward to a long relationship with Macomb as they, together with industry partner ATS Midwest, begin a thorough review of all of the college’s advanced manufacturing programs to ensure SACA certification requirements are incorporated into the programs’ core curricula. The parties will also be reaching out to local industry to confirm that SACA certification requirements reflect the skills needed by industry. For more information about SACA and how its Industry 4.0 certifications can prepare your students for the jobs of the future, visit SACA.org or contact SACA Executive Director Jim Wall.