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Robotics company, Byrd Institute to offer tech training

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new partnership between the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing and a national robotics company will teach workers the necessary skills to help shorten a "skills gap" in the state, an RCBI spokesman said Tuesday.

Martin Spears said the partnership with FANUC Robotics America Inc. to offer the FANUC Robotics Certified Education Robot Training program will provide training that workers need for jobs that are already out there.

FANUC, headquartered in Rochester Hill, Mich., and RCBI announced the partnership Tuesday at the Charleston Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center at Marshall University's South Charleston campus.

Representatives from Toyota and Gestamp, a manufacturing company with a plant in South Charleston, attended to voice the value of workers who are trained in the robotics field. Both businesses are already using industrial robots that workers will be trained to work with in the program, Spears said.

A skills gap between graduating students and retiring Baby Boomers is real, he said.

"There's a whole workforce who are retiring or being promoted so they need the replacement workers to fill their spots, but all these jobs are going unfilled," Spears said. "We're trying to make sure, from machinist to robot workers, that our workforce has the proper skills to take these jobs. And they're good paying jobs, too."

Much of the skills gap is going to be concentrated in "middle skill" jobs, skilled technical jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree, according to a report by the state Council for Community and Technical College Education and the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

These jobs include advanced manufacturing, construction, energy, biotechnology and nanotechnology, cyber-security, information technology, telecommunications and public safety.

Fifty-four percent of West Virginia's jobs fall into this category, but only 45 percent of the state's workers are trained in these areas, according to the report.

"The programs that we've implemented, including the robot training, make sure the manufacturers have the potential pool of skilled workers to be able to compete in the global market," Spears said. "If we have the men and women who are ready to take on these jobs, it's going to continue to help economic development across our region."

FANUC Robotics launched its CERT program in 2008.

The program certifies instructors to train their students to program and operate FANUC robots through online and hands-on training courses. Graduates earn an industry-recognized certification.

Charlotte Weber, director and chief executive officer of RCBI, said in a news release that the partnership would create certified workers who can fill the open high-tech positions.

"The way for the United States to stem the tide of jobs lost overseas, and to restore its economy, is by investing in manufacturing technologies that make U.S. companies more competitive in the world market," Weber said in the release.

Spears said the FANUC Robotics Certified Education Robot Training program will rollout in the fall at the technology center in Charleston.

He said they are still figuring out program details so they can start the training.

RCBI hasn't confirmed any training partnerships with manufacturers in the state, but Spears said it will happen.

"Gestamp and Toyota are both users of the industrial robots so that's two manufacturers right there in our backyard," Spears said. "We've not formalized any training deals yet, but those are two manufacturers right here that have industrial robots on their shop floor now doing the work that needs to be done."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller said in a statement at the announcement Tuesday that training America's workers maintains the country's competitive edge.

"Rebuilding our economy and boosting high-tech manufacturing in West Virginia requires out-of-the-box ideas," Rockefeller said, "and RCBI's robotics program can help transform our workforce just as technology is transforming the way we make products and deliver services."

Sen. Joe Manchin said in a release that enhancing the state's manufacturing technologies is critical for both West Virginia's workforce and industry.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.

 


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