Giving Robots to Students: Siemens, Kia Work to Stir Interest in Manufacturing | Automation.com

Giving Robots to Students: Siemens, Kia Work to Stir Interest in Manufacturing

Giving Robots to Students: Siemens, Kia Work to Stir Interest in Manufacturing

By Cory Fogg, Automation.com

A future lacking in skilled laborers has been a dark cloud looming ahead of the manufacturing industry for several years now, but some major corporations are already working to alleviate the shortage. At an industry event held at the Kia Georgia Training Center, Siemens announced a $100,000 donation to the THINC College & Career Academy in La Grange Georgia. This donation includes automation hardware and expert training to the school, an industry-focused institute catering to nearly 600 10-12 grade West Georgian students.

Closing the Skilled Labor Gap

“Whether we call it IIoT, Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, companies are asking the same two questions,” explained Raj Batra, the Siemens Digital Factory, US President, “How do we successfully move into innovation, and where do we find the talent to keep operations moving?” Batra sees the automation trend clearly, noting how many processes are becoming automated and how many robots are becoming part of new industrial era. Yet Batra claims this doesn’t mean jobs are disappearing, simply that they are changing. “There are over 2 million jobs in this country that go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates”, he pointed out, “If we can support programs like THINC, we can help the nation close the gap”

A Potential Win-Win Scenario for Siemens and Kia

Siemens is not the only organization making sizable investments in the future workforce. Kia Motor Manufacturing Georgia, the host of the event, has contributed over $3.5 million in support, funding and scholarships to THINC since 2009, in addition to the millions it has contributed to efforts to stimulate STEM in elementary schools. Given the massive, ever-expanding manufacturing facility Kia operates right down the street, with over 3,000 employees and nearly 400 operating robots, it is as much an investment in their own future as it is the students. Indeed, much of the donated automation equipment is conveniently the same kind as can be found on the Kia factory floor.

Georgia governor Nathan Deal had high praise for both organization’s efforts. “We value the continued investments from Kia and Siemens’ in Georgia and we respect the vision of the companies’ leadership,” complimented Deal to open the event, “The strong relationships between the company, the community and the state are a model for the kind of partnerships we strive for, as we cultivate the next generation workforce.” All of this may sound like the corporate/political speak you would expect to hear from organizations and politicians, but then attendees were given the opportunity to join Siemens executives on a tour of the THINC Academy.

A High School Experience We Could Only Dream Of

From the minute that the group walked into the school, wide eyes and murmurs of intense envy could be seen and heard throughout the tour. Clearly high school has gotten an upgrade since we all left. THINC CEO Kathy Carlisle guided the group through various ‘classrooms’ which included a simulated emergency room, complete with beds and practice dummies; an advanced computer lab, where students learned the basics of multiple programming languages and had just finished a class segment on creating video games; and most impressively, a state-of-the-art mechatronics lab with multiple robots, different engineering-focused stations, and a fully-functional 2nd prize-winning battle robot sitting in the corner. “We really want to take 1st prize this year,” exuded Ireland excitedly as she showed it off.

Students at THINC College & Career Academy in Troup County, GA play soccer with robots in the school's mechatronics lab. Siemens recently announced a $100,000 donation in robots and automation technology to the school.  (Photo courtesy of THINC College & Career Academy)

Ireland and several instructors further described how these courses are designed, in part, based off the needs of industry partners, like Kia and Siemens. The businesses simply tell the school what skills they are lacking in their workforce, and the school works up lesson plans to teach those skills. In addition to the technical skills, THINC focuses heavily on ‘soft skills’ as well; important professional qualities like teamwork, problem solving and communication, as it relates to the workplace. Further, as THINC is funded almost exclusively by donation and corporate partnership, any student, regardless of economic means, can afford to go to this advanced school. “Around 50% of our student body lives below the poverty line,” said Ireland. With help from companies Siemens and Kia, THINC is expanding opportunities for hundreds of students in western Georgia.

Student Interest and Job Impact are the Keys to Secure a Bright Manufacturing Future

While the future of the manufacturing industry may be more secure, many other organizations and regions are still struggling to find answers for their future. Schools like THINC are becoming more popular throughout the country, but the real key, as both Siemens and Kia have attested to, is to get students interested in manufacturing, so they can discover the skills and interests that can help the industry fill these empty jobs. The manufacturing industry can gripe about the work ethic and entitlement of the ‘millennial’ generation, but unless they take steps, as Siemens and Kia have, to engage the future workforce, and let the students see the impact they can have in these positions, the future of their workforce will be murky at best. As far as Troup Country, Georgia is concerned, however, Siemens, Kia and the THINC Academy have their manufacturing future looking very bright indeed.

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