Co-program Director for Automated Manufacturing Systems Technology
Madison Area Technical College
For many people, the word “manufacturing” conjures up images of monotonous manual labor in dingy factories. Part of Peter Dettmer’s job is correcting that misperception.
Dettmer co-chairs the Automated Manufacturing Program at Madison Area Technical College (Madison College). Madison College is one of 16 technical colleges in Wisconsin, each offering a variety of two-year associate degrees and technical diplomas in fields ranging from nursing and dental hygiene, to welding and plumbing.
Madison is not only the state capital – it’s home to the University of Wisconsin’s largest campus, and to an expanding number of high-tech and manufacturing companies.
“Over the last decade, manufacturing has really been growing here,” Dettmer explained. “And existing companies have been automating and updating their processes and equipment to stay competitive.”
That growth – combined with fast-paced advances in manufacturing technologies – has spurred demand for skilled manufacturing technicians in Wisconsin. But at the same time, many experienced technicians and industrial maintenance people are retiring.
“Employers are struggling to find qualified entry-level people to work as technicians,” Dettmer said. “One reason is that many younger people haven’t known about opportunities in manufacturing. And a lot of them haven’t been interested in hearing about them.”
The reason: The lingering, old-school image of manufacturing.
“People who aren’t working in the manufacturing arena don’t really know what manufacturing looks like these days,” Dettmer said. “There’s still the perception that manufacturing means a dirty, grimy job where you stand at piece of machinery and do the same thing for eight hours every day.”
Dettmer often encountered this misperception – among both students and parents – when he joined Madison College as an instructor.
Over time, a committee helped the college secure workforce-initiative grants from the state and federal government to expand its industrial class offerings, and purchase and update equipment for hands-on instruction. Dettmer also co-developed a new two-year associate degree called automated manufacturing systems technology.
“Our goal was to allow students – not only high school graduates, but people who needed retraining or who were underemployed or unemployed – to start from basically zero knowledge in manufacturing, and learn everything necessary to have a successful career and good income upon graduation,” Dettmer explained.
At first, the classes were taught using various course materials, like textbooks, and equipment from different vendors. However, Dettmer and his colleagues – along with regional manufacturers who sit on the advisory committee that helps oversee the Madison College automation curriculum – envisioned a more focused program to meet the hiring needs of employers in the district.
Through surveys and direct discussions, Dettmer and his colleagues learned that the majority of local manufacturers were standardized on Rockwell Automation equipment.
“We sought out Rockwell Automation at different trade shows and learned about some of the new products and training materials,” Dettmer said. “We were very interested in the training curriculum because we recognized it could be a great asset for our program.”
Madison College contacted Rockwell Automation, requesting to become part of the company’s Educational
Support Program. The program provides accredited educational institutions and students with economical access to Rockwell Automation hardware, software and training tools.
The partnership between Madison College and Rockwell Automation grew with its success. Madison College decided to standardize its automated manufacturing program on Rockwell Automation training curriculum, equipment and workstations.
The school purchased preconfigured panels full of Rockwell Automation products, such as drives, processors, HMI monitors, and industrial controls. Training workbooks from Rockwell Automation provide simulations of real-world scenarios and applications, such as how to set up a conveyor.
“Rockwell Automation has long working relationships with four-year colleges, but this is the first time we’ve partnered this closely with a two-year technical college,” said Scott Feldmann, account manager at Rockwell Automation in the Madison area. “We recognized that by working with Madison College, we had an ideal opportunity to help train the workforce that’s needed in this area. Education is part of our commitment to the community and our commitment to our customers.”
In fulfilling this commitment, Rockwell Automation and Madison College decided to take their partnership one step further. “We wanted to make the program more impactful for everybody and attract more students,” Feldmann explained.
The result was the Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® certificate program. Students at Madison College – including both high school graduates and already employed workers who want to advance their careers – can earn “maintainer certificate” recognition from Rockwell Automation.
After successfully completing the automated manufacturing program at Madison College, students who want to acquire their maintainer certificate must take an additional class taught by Rockwell Automation instructors on-site and pass a test to demonstrate their mastery of the material.
“Having a certificate from a world-leading manufacturer really makes a difference for people who are searching for a job or advancement in their careers,” Dettmer said.
The partnership between Rockwell Automation and Madison College was formalized in August 2013, which means the first students who could qualify for the recognition will graduate in 2015.
Meanwhile, local manufacturers are interested in the program because they want students well-trained to operate and maintain Rockwell Automation equipment.
“Many of our students are already interning with local companies. And every single one of those interns has been told, ‘When you graduate, we want to hire you on full time’,” Dettmer said. “We also get inquiries from our local and regional employers on a weekly, if not daily basis. They’re desperately seeking graduates with the skills our students are learning.
“There are close to 1,000 job openings in our region relating to our career offerings,” Dettmer continued. “So we expect that most of our students will have their pick of places to work upon graduation.”
There’s plenty of room for the automation program to grow. In April 2014, Madison College opened a new wing on campus called the Ingenuity Center. The nearly $40 million center was built using funding approved by voters in the Madison College district.
“The Ingenuity Center is exclusively focused on advanced manufacturing,” Dettmer explained. “We have more classroom space and labs dedicated to our program so we can focus more on PLCs, robotics and the integration of those systems into manufacturing work cells.”
Dettmer and his colleagues also are focused on attracting more students to their program. They visit local high schools, carrying along some of their advanced manufacturing equipment. They demonstrate how it’s used on plant floors and discuss career options in manufacturing. Program instructors also host student groups at the Ingenuity Center.
“We want to make potential students realize that manufacturing is growing and alive in Wisconsin,” Dettmer said. “And that great career opportunities are out there waiting for them.”