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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Program Offers Students at Highlands High-Skill Career Path

Students at Highlands High School have an opportunity to gain high-demand skills and a college degree, tuition free, through a unique program designed by and for regional manufacturers to address what has become known as the "skills gap."

Nearly three and one-half million manufacturing jobs are expected to be created in the U.S. over the next decade, yet two million of those jobs may go unfilled, according to The Manufacturing Institute, a Washington D.C. research firm.

Older, more experienced workers are leaving the workforce at a time when new manufacturing processes require workers with higher technical skills and training. Add to the mix outdated but persistent misconceptions about manufacturing as a career path, and there’s a real problem — not just for job seekers but also for employers and for officials eager to attract businesses to their state.


Addressing the gap

One way Kentucky employers and educators are addressing the issue is through participation in the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program, or FAME, a partnership of manufacturers devoted to filling the gap through education and training.

Kentucky FAME offers an apprenticeship-style training program designed to create a "pipeline of highly skilled workers."

The Northern Kentucky chapter covers Boone, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Owen and Pendleton counties. A list of about 14 area manufacturers involved in the program include Bosch, HAHN Automation, L’Oreal, Skilcraft and Steinert US.

"The reason why Northern Kentucky FAME is so successful is our companies work in a cohort and work as a team…We understand that we are stronger as one. Our AMT (Advanced Manufacturing Technician) apprentices are the foundation to the future growth of the more advanced jobs coming to the region. The earn-as-you-learn model is the only way to fulfill the void in the job market today," says Andrew Farris, president of the organization.

FAME students take classes at Gateway Community and Technical College. Photo is courtesy of GCTC.

FAME at Highlands

At Highlands High School in Fort Thomas participation in Northern Kentucky FAME tops off a set of strategies designed to provide students with high-skill technical training. Ron Rosel joined the Highlands faculty three years ago specifically to help build an engineering, manufacturing and robotics program.

The result has been a strong and growing program in both the high school and middle school, and engaged students who regularly win in state, regional and national technical skills competitions.

Rosel is celebrating his first Kentucky FAME participant and hopes more will follow. The program is unique, he says, in that it is designed directly by and for manufacturers. The specifics of the program can vary with each employer, but involves a combination of education at a local community college and on-the-job training in exchange for tuition and a competitive wage.

Students apply for the program in their senior year and start right after graduation. They first earn an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) certificate. After five semesters, they can earn an associate degree in Applied Science in Industrial Maintenance Technology as well as rack up two years of work experience. Often, manufacturers will continue to support students if they decide to apply the 70 or so college credits they’ve earned toward a bachelor’s degree.

Students typically work three days a week and attend classes for two days. While on the job, employers attempt to give the student as many varied experiences as possible.

FAME Participation

Highlands graduate Logan Harned receives on-the-job training at Krauss Maffei while attending Gateway Community & Technical College. Photo courtest of Krauss Maffei

Highlands graduate, Logan Harned, is the school’s first FAME participant. He is working and receiving training from Krauss Maffei, an international injection molding machinery company with a facility in Florence. He works three days a week, attends classes for two days at Gateway Community & Technical College and receives full wages.

In a letter to Rosel, he describes some of the things he has learned since beginning the program this summer.

"I started at KMC in July where I was placed in the gearbox repair service….I have obtained a 10-hour OSHA certification, as well as learning basic wiring. Our open house was a couple weeks ago and for a week or two I helped set up a lot of power cords and transformers to run the machines being used for the show, while shadowing an electrical engineer co-op. Furthermore I got the chance to view a couple electrical blueprints as well.

Manufacturing today

Rosel says this is his 24th year in technical education, and he’s seen a dramatic shift in the manufacturing field but a slower change in attitudes toward the field as a viable career path.

"Trying to find qualified candidates to go into manufacturing is tough…People don’t understand that manufacturing today is a high skill career that brings higher pay. You can make a great living…the stereotype is that you need a four-year university degree. Yet the cost of college means a student can graduate eighty or one hundred thousand dollars in debt."

Graduates starting families and careers can easily end up carrying both a mortgage and college debt, he says. Programs like FAME offer students an alternative that can allow them to join a growing and challenging field and to start out life on good financial footing.

In the program at Highlands High and Highlands Middle School, students can learn engineering technology, engineering design (CAD), robotics, 3-D printing and more. Skills competitions offered through the Technology Student Association offer them an opportunity to compete at regional, state and national levels. Some high school classes also offer dual credit options with NKU and the UC School of Engineering.

For more information on the program at Highlands, see the Engineering and Technology Career Pathway webpage. Kentucky FAME holds open houses a few times each year for people to learn about the program. The public is invited to the next open house to be held Wednesday, January 10, from 3:30 to 6p.m. at the Saffron Group in Walton, Kentucky.

Students learn skills for high-demand careers through FAME. Photo courtesy of NK FAME.
PHOTO at top: Highlands Middle School teacher, Ron Rosel. 

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