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Power tool: Siemens program at SVHEC hailed as job getter

South Boston News
Make It ... in SoVA speakers were David Kenealy, SVHEC Director of Industry & Workforce Advancement, Dr. Emily Howarth, Professor of Electronics and Industrial Technology at Western Nevada College, Lauren von Steuben, Product Manager for Digital Products Division at Siemens AG in Berlin, Germany, and Dr. Betty Adams, SVHEC Executive Director. / October 02, 2017
Mechatronics may sound like a character in the “Transformers” movies, but business and education leaders say it is a key workforce component for attracting advanced manufacturing to the region.

The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, in partnership with Siemens Technik Akadmie in Berlin, Germany, is offering the Siemens Mechatronic Systems Certification Program in Halifax County, making the community one of only a handful of places worldwide where the certification training is available.

The launch of the Siemens initiative was celebrated Friday at a “Make It ... in SOVA” event at the SVHEC, featuring guest speakers from Berlin and Carson City, , where a local college has been offering the program in the past year with great success.

Major industries in Nevada — including Tesla, Zappos, Panasonic and GE — have “bought into” the concept of mechatronics, said Emily Howarth, professor of Electronics and Industrial Technology at Western Nevada College in Carson City.

She said that students there who have trained in mechatronics have gone on to get jobs with advanced manufacturing firms and earn higher wages because of their Siemens certifications.

What is mechatronics? It’s a combination of technology skills — mechanical, electrical, computer, and software and control engineering — to design and manufacture products. Individuals trained in mechatronics are prepared for careers as machine operators, industrial maintenance technicians and plant electricians.

Saying she was “excited” to offer the skills certification at the SHVEC, Betty Adams, executive director, called the Siemens mechatronics program “a tremendous asset and resource for industries in Southern Virginia.

“We are here to serve you and we can offer very flexible schedules which work for you, “ Adams said to area industry representatives who attended the launch event.

Butch Blanks, chairman of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, said the SVHEC launch should be helpful in the IDA’s quest to recruit industries to the county.

“This is a wonderful educational and career preparation opportunity for our community,” said Blanks. “It is my hope that the IDA, working with our entire community, can be successful in attracting the advanced manufacturing employment opportunities to our community that will keep graduates of this program here.”

Providing an overview of the program Friday was Lauren von Steuben, Product Manager for Digital Products Division at Siemens AG in Berlin, Germany. Von Steuben, who oversees the Siemens Mechatronic Systems Certification Program (SMSCP) in 16 countries, said the internationally-recognized skills certifications help workers to “hit the ground running” at advanced manufacturing facilities.

“With the SMSCP, students are able to earn a global certification without leaving Virginia. This is the same certification as students in Canada, Germany and India get,” von Steuben said. “Everything is hands-on, with 30 percent theory and 70 percent practice.

“The core of the program is hands-on practice and troubleshooting working with real mechatronic systems,” she continued.

Although the training is offered through Siemens — the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe — SMSCP certifications are vendor-neutral and not dependent on Siemens, nor any particular equipment.

“SMSCP is a mechatronic skills certification, not a Siemens product certification,” she said.

Howarth said students who receive the mechatronics training provide versatility for industrial employers in any number of areas.

“Whatever your field or industry, mechatronics will cover it,” she said. “Mechatronic students can analyze problems and provide solutions at a higher level than those not trained in mechatronics. They understand how their work affects other people, and the company’s bottom line.”

Industry representatives who attended the “Make It … in SoVA” event came away impressed. Cindy Kirby, HR coordinator for American Buildings Company in La Crosse, said she was “very excited about this program. I’m looking forward to investigating it to see what options are available for American Buildings Company.”

David Kenealy, director of Industry & Workforce Advancement at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, shared information about mechatronics training at the SVHEC. Currently, all three levels of SMSCP certification are available, and several cohorts of students are working towards completion of the program.

Seven students began Level 1 mechatronics training in August, and a new cohort of Level 2 trainees is scheduled to start in October.

Kenealy emphasized that mechatronics training is essential for preparing workers for the future of industrial automation.

Adams described mechatronics training as “hands-on, customized, vendor-neutral, and [it] gives you more bang for your buck. But if you leave with only one thought I hope it is this: The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center is here to help you, to serve you. We want you to succeed because we want Southern Virginia to be strong.”

Those interested in learning more about mechatronics training or the Siemens Mechatronic Certification Program at the SVHEC can contact program coordinator Scarlett Brandon at 434-572-5473 or by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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