Updates on FLATE’s partnership with Rutgers’ University Education and Employment Research Center (EERC) – Hidden Innovation Infrastructure: Understanding the Economic Development Role of Technician Education in the Changing Future of Work (HII)

Dr. Barger, Senior Educational Advisor for FLATE, has served as a co-principal investigator for an NSF ATE-funded Technician Education Research (NSF 2026262) project since 2020. This project is researching community college technical programs' contributions to and interactions with local and regional economic development organizations. Details about the HII project and other research projects related to community college workforce programs can be found here. (https://sites.rutgers.edu/eerc-hii/).

Over the 2023 Winter break, the HII project released a publication sharing its conceptual model that has evolved during the research phase of this project -- The Community College Role in Economic Development: A Conceptual Model. This new report outlines the role of community colleges in economic development. It defines both model inputs and outputs with examples including inclusive economic development. The report provides some ideas and opportunities for community colleges to begin engaging with their local and regional economic development agencies plus outcomes they can anticipate from these engagements.

Additionally, the Hidden Innovation Infrastructure project has developed 3 interactive data visualization tools that can provide charts or graphs of trends over time of graduates per career and technical education program by name, nationally, by state, or for multiple states. Another of these “data tools” can provide trends over time for jobs by technician occupation. These tools can quickly provide a visualization of these trends that can help community college workforce personnel compare current to past trends and map that information to economic trends and “happenings” for the industry sector of interest. All 3 tools are free to use based on national Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data Systems (IPEDS) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Read more about these tools and try them out by going to the Data Tools menu item under Products on the Rutgers HII website. To get some ideas on how these tools have been used, there are issue briefs detailing the use of the tools under the Publications link (also under Products on the site).

There are many potential benefits for community colleges to engage with these organizations and some can be gleaned from these reports. Educators can find other reports and case studies from this project including promising practices at some specific colleges that are engaged with their economic development, workforce, and other community organizations.
The Rutgers Education and Employment Research Center has conducted a wealth of research focused on many aspects of Community College workforce programs and initiatives that can support all community colleges working in this space. In the fast-evolving landscape of technical education and training, degrees, certificates, and credentials, it’s a resource not to be overlooked. Please check out the HII project and the many other publications documenting a wide range of topics pertinent to college faculty, administrators, and advocates.

Spotlight on the Florida Statewide Engineering Technology Industry Advisory Board

Industry advisory boards are crucial in helping organizations make informed decisions to streamline and meet targeted strategic goals. For several years, Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) has been leading the effort to bring together diverse and geographically dispersed colleges offering degrees in engineering technology (ET) to discuss and share best practices, and identify strategies to strengthen its technology consortium across Florida. FLATE is an NSF center of excellence in Florida that has been funded to date with a $10 million grant and is considered to be part of the NSF ATE Community as a “sustained” Center. The ATE program is focused on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education to meet the technician workforce needs of American advanced technological industries. From 2004 to 2020, FLATE was funded through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant and was absorbed as part of the FloridaMakes network in 2020.

Overview, role and responsibilities of SETIAB

In an ongoing effort to streamline the engineering technology degree and related curriculum, in coordination with FloridaMakes and state and community colleges offering the ET Degree, FLATE launched the Statewide Engineering Technology Industry Advisory Board (SETIAB) in the spring of 2023. The Florida SETIAB is a key vehicle in engaging and building in-roads between Florida manufacturers and colleges offering two- and four-year degrees in engineering technology. The Board’s mission is to ensure that the 20-plus Associate in Science Engineering Technology (ASET) programs offered in community and state colleges across Florida are meeting rapidly evolving industry needs, and raising the visibility and competencies of ASET degree graduates. The Board is also tasked with identifying SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals by assisting the Florida College System (FCS) in ensuring ET curriculum learning objectives and activities are productive and of high quality.

Expected benefits and outcomes

Following the inaugural in-person meeting in March 2023, the Board recruited additional members to set up its initial organizational structure and bylaws. The Board now consists of one or two industry representatives who support an engineering technology advisory board from each of the Florida state colleges, plus one member each from FloridaMakes, Florida’s K-12 education system, and the Florida Department of Education’s Adult and Career Education division. Supporting members of the new advisory board include representatives from each college that has an industry member on the board as well as representatives from FLATE. A college may have more than one industry representative on the Board which helps to ensure that there is broad geographic representation and includes representatives of all manufacturing sectors found in Florida.

SETIAB is the “go-to” resource for providing recommendations on the continual development of engineering technology and related education for students at all FCS-affiliated institutions. It assists in developing a positive image for the ET programs and will serve as a conduit for maintaining information between the colleges, FloridaMakes, Florida Department of Education (FDOE), and manufacturers across Florida. The Board will also recommend curriculum content in both degrees and certificates while adhering to FDOE guidelines.

Similarities with engineering technology programs in colleges and universities

On a broader spectrum, the effort to establish a statewide engineering technology industry advisory board is not unique to Florida. The effort aligns with similar initiatives at colleges and universities across the country. The Purdue School of Engineering & Technology at Indiana University has a similar board consisting of alumni, industry experts, and industry professionals to advise, assist, support, and advocate for its electrical engineering technology program. Similarly, the engineering technology departments at the University of Toledo and East Tennessee State University have industrial advisory boards with a similar scope to advise engineering technology programs at each of their universities in an effort to achieve excellence. “Through the Florida SETIAB, we hope to provide guidance that enhances and aligns career and technical training with industry needs,” said Dr. Marilyn Barger, senior education advisor for FLATE. Barger hopes the initiative will also guide education and industry pathways that spur career growth for students and employees across the state and gives greater visibility to the ASET degree programs offered across the state including the skillsets of ET graduates.

To meet the charter manufacturing members and learn more about Florida’s SETIAB, visit https://flate.site/setiab, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at Marilyn.barger@flate.org and Dr. Mori Toosi, director of engineering technology at Polk State College, at mtoosi@polk.edu.

AmSkills & Local Colleges Establish Articulation Agreements to Build Enrollment

AmSkills, a regional resource for manufacturing training on Florida's west coast, met recently with FLATE in a discussion about expanding articulation agreements with local schools.  AmSkills believes strongly in productive collaboration between post-secondary education providers and has established articulation agreements with several colleges.  The focus has been on agreements with schools that offer the Associate in Science in Engineering Technology (ASET) degree, allowing AmSkills participants who receive industry certifications to receive college credit towards the ASET degree.  

According to Dr. Anzalone, COO of AmSkills, the common goal is increasing the number of students pursuing post-secondary education in STEM, specifically in Engineering Technology. It is no secret that enrollment in postsecondary education has declined since the COVID pandemic started and has struggled to reach pre pandemic levels. The National Student Clearinghouse publishes an annual enrollment report with relevant data. “Total postsecondary enrollment remains well below pre-pandemic levels, down about 1.09 million students overall and about 1.16 million undergraduates alone, compared to spring 2020.” 

Some of the causes for this decline are:
  • Perception about College, Community College, and Technical Programs
  • Competition with other programs
  • The “Gig” economy (Ride sharing, meal delivery, freelancing work, etc.)
  • Class format and location
  • Dual Credit
  • College and Student Finances
  • Mental health decline and support services not available or not promoted enough.

Low enrollment is happening at a time when there are 1.42 job openingsfor every unemployed person in the US. The question is: How do we get more people interested in pursuing a career in the technical aspects of manufacturing? Many have been working on this for the last 30 years, including AmSkills, since its founding. AmSkills has concluded -- based on work conducted over the last decade -- that the key factor is awareness of the different careers available and of the pathways to getting into them.

FLATE is a national leader on promoting and expanding opportunities for individuals to explore careers in STEM and manufacturing, through manufacturing months tours, summer camps, curriculum development support, teacher training in STEM fields, among many others.  FLATE continues to partner with organizations like AmSkills on initiatives related to awareness of manufacturing careers and pathways to these careers. 

AmSkills strongly believes in productive collaboration between post-secondary education and training providers.  They have established articulation agreements with colleges near them that provide college credit into the ASET degree for their participants, using the industry certifications achieved in AmSkills programs.  Specific industry certifications can be articulated into credit hours towards the ET degree through these articulation agreements. 

FLATE encourages the development of articulation agreements between Florida's colleges around the state.  There are many programs like these by AmSkills that offer alternative pathways to learning manufacturing and soft skills and students using them to earn certificates can also earn college credit if articulation agreements are in place.  

For step-by-step instructions on how to establish articulation agreements, click here watch the FLATE Webinar on Developing Local Articulations.

Click here for a list of Florida colleges that offer the AS in Engineering Technology.

The involvement of industry partners is crucial for all technical education and training programs. It’s vital that educators regularly learn from industry what skills their workforce needs so students completing programs can go directly into the workforce and perform at a high level. Successful job placements enhance a program’s success in attracting more people to manufacturing careers. Industry partners often provide financial support for student’s tuition, activities, and competitions. More importantly, the information provided by these industry partners guides which programs are offered at AmSkills.

AmSkills Programs

AmSkills has many programs designed to expand the pipeline of people pursuing careers in manufacturing, as well as to upskill newcomers and incumbent workers.  Below are just a few of the programs currently being offered.

High School Initiative:
AmSkills is running a four-year advanced manufacturing pre-apprenticeship Academy program at AnClote High School in Pasco County. The curriculum for the 4-year program is based on Amatrol’s “Ignite” program with courses that include stimulating interactive eLearning lessons, computer simulations, design projects, and hands-on workstations using Industry 4.0 technologies. Currently, there are 153 students in this program.

Youth Camps: AmSkills offers a variety of youth camps of varying durations to expose teenagers to technologies and careers in manufacturing at both their Lealman and Holiday locations.

Adult Career Discovery Bootcamps:
The 2-week program exposes participants to different aspects of manufacturing and soft skills requested by industry partners. At the end of the 2-week program, completers are guaranteed interviews with multiple hiring employers, most of them attaining a job in manufacturing after a second or third interview with one of these companies.

Upskilling new and incumbent technicians: AmSkills offers training in most industry credentials related to mechatronics, taught in different formats and locations, responding to industrial partners’ needs.

To learn more about AmSkills, please visit their website at https://www.amskills.org/.

By Alessandro Anzalone, Ph.D. and the AmSkills team.