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A Ranken Technical College student examines a Nidec motor.

Tackling the Skills Gap with a Technical School Partnership

Faced with a wave of retirements, electric-motor maker Nidec tries "reverse internships."

Nidec Corporation, a global manufacturer of electric motors, has a robust workforce of 140,000 employees worldwide. We have made it our mission to be a technological change leader, introducing new robotic designs and applications and helping manufacturers adapt to the Internet of Things (IoT). As we plan and prepare for future successes, however, we are facing serious workforce challenges. Our highly trained and skilled workers are retiring, and there are not enough properly trained replacements for them.

And, Nidec, of course, is hardly alone. With Baby Boomers retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day—taking their technical and institutional knowledge with them—manufacturing is grappling with a skilled worker shortage. The limited supply of STEM-educated students prepared to fill these jobs only makes the situation worse.

Nidec contributes to and partners with many four-year institutions, such as Missouri University of Science and Technology and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. However, we know it is critical that we also help provide opportunities for vocational and technical training to address skill gaps in our workforce.  Graduates of these specialized training programs have the hands-on experience and expertise that is very much in demand.

One such successful partnership has been the “microenterprise model” with Ranken Technical College in St. Louis. Sometimes described as reverse internships, these microenterprises are located directly on the college campus, and companies provide leading-edge equipment and technologies. Students learn how to perform a range of technical services, from inspecting parts and assembling products, to testing functions, conducting quality control and filing reports. In addition to receiving pay as part-time employees, students receive Workforce Education college credits available through Ranken’s Manufacturing Cooperative department.

As part of an innovative collaboration between Ranken and our Appliance, Commercial and Industrial Motors division (ACIM), Nidec installed a test stand for pool and spa pump motors on the campus in 2017. Students use the motor test stand to learn about variable speed pool pump motors and how to handle electric and plumbing hookups. Through the program, Ranken students get real-world training, and Nidec gets a direct – and much needed – pipeline to a new generation of technical workers.

We ask students to run the motors under extreme conditions, causing them to fail more quickly than normal. As failures occur in these “accelerated life tests,” students learn how to diagnose the problems. This quick failure process helps us predict the product’s expected life, while also identifying product weaknesses that can be re-engineered through a continuous improvement process.

The pool and spa program proved so successful that Nidec expanded our partnership in 2018 with the installation of a gas-fired furnace test stand to support Ranken’s Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVACR) program. Students enrolled in an associate of technology or associate of science degree program may now earn class credit and a salary as they set up the electric and gas furnaces, and collect combustion flow and air movement data. They also learn about the latest high-end efficiency furnaces, their combustion systems and air movement systems that utilize Nidec motors.

Nidec engineers and staff members also conduct educational sessions about motor technologies at Ranken. Their instructors return the favor by conducting HVAC system training with Nidec field sales representatives.

In 2019, Nidec’s operations at Ranken will be moving and expanding into a new 26,000-square foot facility built as a public/private initiative, driven by industry demands. The Center is already drawing praise. The Missouri Association of Manufacturers (MAM) presented a Made in Missouri Leadership Award to Ranken, Nidec and others responsible for its creation. The award recognizes their work in helping to shape the future of global manufacturing and contributing to MAM’s skilled workforce efforts.

With these types of industry-driven programs, students have opportunities to engage in hands-on experiences that give them a competitive edge in the marketplace. And industries gain the technical skillsets that they so desperately need for their economic growth.

Carla Otto is executive vice president, CFO & CAO of the Nidec Americas Holding Corporation. Nidec Corporation is closely associated with approximately 300 group companies all over the world. It is the world's leading comprehensive motor manufacturer, handling "everything that spins and moves,” from miniature to gigantic.

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