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.
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.
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.