Manufacturing Excellence in Florida (part 5)

Technology Moves Forward and Skills Don't Stay the Same

 Our focus in the last four FLATE Focus entries on manufacturing excellence in Florida reviewed a FloridaMakes-FLATE joint perspective for building a technical workforce for Florida manufacturing that will support Florida's bid to be a global manufacturing competitor.  Fundamentally, the model we are building is workforce based and uses industry-recognized credentials, apprenticeships, and Florida College System college certifications and A.S. degree programs to bring the skill levels manufacturers need into the technicians and advanced operators workforce.  State-of-the-art knowledge and skills are required and represent the limiting step in moving Florida manufacturing to its desired world-class recognition.  This reality brings us to the heart of the challenge: the manufacturers themselves. 
   
Manufacturers will advance their product quality and reliability with the implementation of advanced technology at the cutting edge of their manufacturing processes.  Florida manufacturers are well aware of this axiom.  However, its subtle overtone (technology moves forward and skills don't stay the same) may not be appreciated.  This FLATE Focus draws our attention to two technologies, vacuum technology and electronics, that accent this point as well as point out what has to be done.  Both represent cornerstone technologies for many Florida manufacturers and their related workforce development requires input from those manufacturers.     
                           
 Vacuum Technology

Operation within a controlled environment below atmospheric pressure is fundamental to many manufacturing processes.  New technologies require even lower and more precisely controlled vacuum conditions.  Advanced technologies are now being installed into manufacturing situations that accomplish this objective.  For Florida’s biomedical device, aerospace, and strategic defense electronics manufacturing sectors, the installation, maintenance, and ultimately troubleshooting of equipment and subsystems that collectively control specific manufacturing process environments is critical.

 Although the image of “bunny-suited” special assignment technicians quickly comes to mind when one thinks about a clean room manufacturing environment, an equally important if not more critical set of technicians skills are required in the “Chase” (the space outside the cleanroom that houses the myriad of pumps, motors, sensors, communication devices, as well as various electronically controlled electro-mechanical equipment required to generate the desired specific operational critical environments inside the cleanroom).  However, the new and/or refined skills expected of this supportive workforce are not commonly taught within Florida's education system.

To step up that educational requirement, manufacturers have to help FLATE identify these new expectations.  FLATE is initiated a new partnership with the American Vacuum Society (AVS) to facilitate this task.  The AVS is the largest professional society that supports applied research and technology development for processes that require very specific controlled environments.  Work will begin in June reviewing current knowledge and skill expectations for technicians supporting this sector.

Multi-frequency devices and system manufacturing

"It's not your grandfather's electronics repair shop anymore" is a gross understatement.  "It's not even today's technician's electronics skills anymore" is much closer to the situation.  Specifically, manufacturers cannot find workers that are immediately prepared, with the skill set required, to work independently on multi-frequency electronic components and systems designed for use from 0.3 to many Gigahertz.  (The components of cell phones, public safety, and defense-related communication devices with 400 selectable channels or frequencies that are switched and adjusted by internal electronics without our knowledge are excellent examples of multi-frequency products made in Florida.)  This workforce skills gap is not constrained to just one frequency in this range but with many waves or signals simultaneously-hence multi-frequency devices.  As a direct result, numerous positions are unfilled and costly engineering resources are diverted to tasks that should be within the realm of qualified technicians. 

FLATE has initiated an additional project to address the emergent nature of this technology and the growing skills gap in this sector because it underlies the fact that the resident electronics training in Florida's two-year institutions does not include this curriculum.  The skills specification for multi-frequency technician jobs and the metrology expertise are simply not currently present in those institutions.  Florida industry partners in this effort include Harris Electronic Systems, MtronPTI, Qorvo, and Modelithics.

Summary


 What we need right now from Florida manufacturers in both of these sectors is direct and specific input as to the components of these knowledge and skill combinations that need attention.  What is expected of your workforce today and tomorrow?  The vehicles for improving workforce skills in these areas are in place but their effective use depends on your input.  Please get involved.  It is easy to do (contact gilbert@usf.edu) and your input will have an immediate impact.