Robotics in Your Future: Skills are the future of manufacturing

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You may have heard that manufacturing jobs are a thing of the past. While it’s true that traditional assembly line jobs are dwindling, there are many high-skill, high-demand, high-wage jobs in manufacturing that are starved for skilled workers.

Today, over 60% of manufacturing employees have at least some college education, according to a U.S Department of Commerce report. A 2011 report from the Manufacturing Institute estimates that 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs are currently unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers. The report stated that “75% of manufacturers say the skill shortage has negatively impacted their ability to expand.”

“The pay is fantastic. Some of these jobs require regular travel so, if you like to travel, your career can move fast.”

The Workforce Intelligence Network report Working Smarter published in 2013, stated that “Southeast Michigan has more demand for skilled trades labor, such as CNC (computer numerical control) machinists and welders, than almost anywhere else in the country.” There were 105,900 technicians, skilled trades, production and other manufacturing workers in Southeast Michigan in 2012. Overall the region has 256,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing and that there were 15,600 new skilled trades and technician job postings in 2012 in Southeast Michigan.

As a result such high tech jobs as robotics technicians, CNC programmers, PLC (programmable logic control) technicians, and CAD designers go begging. Mott College prepares technicians in all of these fields and they get jobs in Genesee County and all along the 75 Highway corridor.

At Applied Manufacturing Technologies in Orion, Michigan, a company that designs and programs automated equipment for manufacturers, 10 new employees with skills in computer-controlled manufacturing were hired just this year. “And we would have hired 10 more if we could have found them,” says Diane Haig, the company’s chief knowledge officer.

Robotics: “More jobs than students”

Marty Wagner, Robotics Instructor for Mott Community College stated that “Southeast Michigan is the world epicenter of industrial robotics. That has a lot to do with our history as the heart of automotive manufacturing. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler put a lot of money into robotics, so robotics companies sprung up here in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Now, because the region has such a strong background and experience in robotics, we’re starting to see other countries come here to Michigan to get their systems designed and built. The headquarters for all the major industrial robotics manufacturers are between Flint and Toledo. Around 85% of the robotics work done in the world is done is southeast Michigan. Projections show that robotics work and installations will be rising for years to come.”

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As growth continues to return to industrial manufacturing, the demand for Robotic Technicians in Michigan is rising quickly. According to Jason Slade, Coordinator of the Electronics and Electrical Technology program at Mott Community College, “We get calls all the time from recruiters and companies looking for entry-level robotics programming, installation and repair. We often have more jobs available in robotics, than graduates to send them because demand is so strong.”

MCC Robotics Instructor Marty Wagner added, “Just today two of our students got jobs, one who hasn’t even finished the program yet.”

Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. While science fiction literature is full of human-shaped robots, the real world of industry and manufacturing is filled with robots of a more practical kind.

The Robotics Technology program at Mott College offers students two options: a full associate degree in Electronics and Electrical Technology with an emphasis in Robotics or a Robotics Programming and Control certificate of achievement. The full degree requires at least 62 credits and can be completed in as little as two years if a student is focused on completing the program quickly. The certification requires 30 credits and can be completed in as little as one year if the student is committed.

Marty Wagner reported that salaries for Robotics Technicians start at $25,000 to $30,000, move up to the high $30,000 range within a year and by the 5th or 6th year, can be as high as $60,000 to $70,000.

Slade added: “It is a high-tech career, where technicians are always gaining knowledge, and technicians are hard to replace. The pay is fantastic. Some of these jobs require regular travel so, if you like to travel, your career can move fast.”

A successful Robotics Technician needs to be able to handle a fast-paced environment, be open to new technology and comfortable with computers. Wagner advised, “A Robotics Technician needs to be comfortable with math and working with numbers. You will have a lot of freedom on the job but that is because there is a lot of responsibility.”

According to Wagner, Robotics isn’t just for young people who grew up with computers. Many of his students are in their 40’s and 50’s, retraining for new careers.

“We can get students ramped up to where they need to be,” said Slade.

Clark Harris and Michael Kelly

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