By Ken Jackson
Manufacturing in the United States is not dead.
In fact, judging by the Valencia College Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, it is alive, well, and keeping up with the technological times.
The institute, where students learn hands-on skills heavily in demand in Florida’s manufacturing industry — and will become even heavier when the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center opens two miles down U.S. Highway 192 in 2017 — will create an in-demand pipeline for skilled labor going forward after celebrating its grand opening Tuesday.
While Valencia’s name is on the building and has been training its students in advanced manufacturing since securing federal grants in 2012 and 2014, partners — big names locally — have lined up to help stock the center.
Names on the walls include Lockheed Martin, Siemens, the U.S. Department of Labor, CareerSource Central Florida, the Manufacturers Association of Central Florida and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences.
Instead of cutting a ribbon, dignitaries including Valencia President Sandy Shugart and Board of Trustees member Lewis Oliver pressed the “Power On” button Tuesday, and a variety of machines came to life.
“This new training center will serve all persons interested in manufacturing careers and provide pathways to students to earn certifications,” Shugart said. “We are proud that this will support our community, training people for high-tech, high-paying jobs. That’s why we’re here.
“We have amazing people available to work, but without skill. And there’s amazing jobs ready to hire, but without a people. It’s marriage that will change the complexion of this community.”
Kathleen Plinske, president of the Valencia College Osceola and Lake Nona campuses, said the center creates a new educational pathway.
“Even though what they’ve talked about is not a traditional college program, I know there are many students in our community that a four-year college degree is not in their realm of possibility, but coming in for a 10-week training course that leads to a great job is,” she said.
Pat Sunderlin, vice president of Lockheed Martin, a Center Florida standard for over 60 years, said the Valencia center will teach the skill set for the manufacturing it does in the area.
“We support thousands of people in Florida and do business with over 1,500 suppliers, so we’re very much invested and committed to the success of this facility. We’ve hired a couple already, believe it or not.”
Barry Nichols, Senior Vice President of Siemens, said his company was committed to having the students learn the latest technology, so it provided an in-kind software grant of Siemens’ Product Lifecycle Management software, a $63 million commercial value, to equip the classrooms with the latest manufacturing technology.
“I give you our commitment that the success here will be fully supported by us. I’m sure you’ve heard that manufacturing in this country is dead. It’s just not true. Jobs are being created today.
“People need to learn not only how to run these machines but also complex processes and be well-versed in software, and that’s the mission here.”
Oliver wanted to thank Gov. Rick Scott for what he’s done in Tallahassee to make the project happen in person — Scott was scheduled to attend but his plane couldn’t land due to Tuesday morning’s dense fog.
“Nobody cares more about the affordability of education than him,” Oliver said.
The new center, with 17,000 square feet of lab and teaching space, offers 12-week to 6-month training programs that lead to certifications in sciences like Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, logistics and production tech, advanced welding and quality, inspection and assembly.
“These are valuable skills, certifications that can be earned in a matter of weeks or a couple of months and immediately add value,” Shugart said.
Aside from hands-on learning machines, most of the student stations incorporate virtual reality to build, repair and replace larger machines. There are four labs and two smart-technology classrooms, which have been in use. Tuesday’s event was also the graduation day for 19 students (14 military veterans), the program’s first class. The next class will begin next week with about 65 students and each class has varying graduation dates based on the length of the program. When all of its certification programs are up and running by the end of 2016, the center will accommodate 200 students.
One of those graduates of the Manufacturing Center, Ken Franklin, spent 20 years in the Navy, then got a well-paying job that got cut during the recession.
“I was a little skeptical at first about the program because I didn’t know anything about manufacturing,” said Franklin, who now carries a Certified Quality Improvement certification. “My first day I learned so much. Being a chief petty officer for two years, you develop a unique detail for quality. I’m confident that when I leave here I’ll be able to get a job.”
The Shady Lane building is the one originally slated to be occupied by gun manufactured Colt. It is still county-owned, while Valencia spent about $1 million to retrofit the building for its needs and leases it from Osceola County annually for $90,000.