Former Chairman Todd Lucey (General Manager, Endress+Hauser) and I met with Polk State College’s Corporate College Director Rob Clancey and his incredible team at the Advanced Technology Center in Bartow, Florida. I am sure that there are more flowery words than this to describe our meeting with them but this is most descriptive: WOW!

Todd chairs the the Workforce Development Committee whose empassioned volunteers are working on ways to develop tools that everyone can use to move the ball forward for our future employees. For the past several months I have been counselling that group that we may be best served in working with two and four year colleges, like Polk State. Our meeting with Clancey and his team confirmed that notion in my mind–and I think in Todd Lucey’s as well. The primary reason for my focus was that these colleges are local/regional and don’t really compete with each other in attracting students. Except that Polk State is going to start to compete for students from outside the central Florida area just because of their capabilities in training in advanced manufacturing and (important for us) process automation! They LIKE to share ideas and curricula. So we will be able to establish a consortium of colleges that want to work with our members to establish training centers around the country that can teach a shared curriculum relative to instrumentation and automation. We are not going to have to recreate the wheel over and over–we likely can get it done quickly.

We think our first step, however, must be to meet with our own members to drill down to EXACTLY what we want to see in students that come out of these institutions–whether they are candidates for hiring within our own companies or even if they are technicians that might work at our customer’s plants. So that’s going to be my first challenge–to get as many of MCAA’s member companies committed to sharing (and I mean digging down to specifics) what they are missing from their current new hires so that we can find a way to create a path for that education.

Then, of course, we have to sell that to students in high school as a path to a great career. But the first step is to create the educational path and I believe firmly that the two and four year college option is going to work best. Consider this if you are thinking ‘why not engineering schools?’: at schools where there are masters and PhD programs, tenured professors are evaluated based upon how many PhD candidates they produce. Not on how many process automation engineers they graduate. Where do you think their focus is going to be? Small 2-4 year colleges have a completely different mindset of training not just high school graduates but also the unemployed, underemployed, retraining unskilled or minimally skilled workers, veterans and the like. At some levels we absolutely need more engineers who have an understanding of process automation. But if we establish the curriculum with these 2-4 year colleges we have a great template to take to engineering schools to begin the process at the higher educational levels.

So its a matter of baby steps but once we learn to walk, folks … watch out! We’ll be running really really soon!