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Groundbreaking MCC Study Lays Out Road Map for Future of Work

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Report focuses on training highly skilled technicians as Industry 4.0 transforms businesses

While some regional employers call a portion of their staffers back to work, many unemployed area residents are job hunting and re-evaluating their career goals. Out-of-work individuals especially may need to develop new skills to secure new jobs as economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is likely to see employers increasingly rely on technologies to stay competitive, transforming the way business is done.

A groundbreaking Future of the Technician Workforce Study by Monroe Community College’s Economic and Workforce Development Center sheds light on the most-in-demand skills and what the future of work looks like in the Finger Lakes region over the next five years and beyond as current and emerging technologies—including artificial intelligence and virtual reality— transform businesses’ operations.

The 60-page report examines how Industry 4.0 and transformative technologies are likely to change businesses’ operations and technician job functions in four key industry sectors: manufacturing and automation, information technology, health care, and human resources and professional services. It also explores the roles of employers and community colleges in supporting the region’s new generation of technicians.

The study is based on extensive input from over 100 industry professionals from 80 regional organizations who participated in a fall 2019 strategic planning workshop hosted by MCC. Between full-group discussions and parallel breakouts, contributors participated in a total of 22 distinct focus groups throughout the one-day workshop.

Although the study grew out of pre-pandemic statewide and national dialogues on the 21st-century workforce, the coronavirus crisis is accelerating the fourth industrial revolution and MCC’s implementation of workforce development strategies in relation to the education and training of future technicians. Study findings are guiding the collaborative efforts of MCC and area employers in helping bridge the skills gaps and opening doors to family-sustaining careers.

A digital companion piece to the study is a 17-minute “Careers of the Future” film that features six Finger Lakes/Western New York employers harnessing technology—including augmented reality, data analytics, automation and robotics—to increase efficiency and enhance operations. LiDestri, University of Rochester Medical Center, and Wegmans are examples of employers that are shaping the future of industry and determining the skill sets that will be the most valuable for job seekers to have.

The study identifies competencies and skill requirements, including equipment needs, of the future technician workforce. It also suggests a range of Industry 4.0 credentials that would qualify future technicians for competitive careers.

Some of the major findings of the study gleaned from the collective perspectives of business and industry members, community stakeholders, and leading experts:

  • Eight major technology areasIndustrial internet of things (IIoT), additive manufacturing, automation and robotics, data analytics/data science, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, advanced process control and mechatronics will have the most transformative impact on multiple industry sectors and will determine the skill sets employers most want in their workers.
  • Cybersecurity—The proliferation of IIoT technologies and services compels businesses to place greater value in data security to ensure the protection of data and information for consumers. Across all industries, technicians are needed to help secure and manage cloud- and edge-based platforms and other IIoT devices and frameworks.
  • Soft skills—In addition to technical skills, Finger Lakes regional businesses indicate a need to hire more technicians with complementary soft skills including communications, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and project management.
  • Systems integration—All industry sectors emphasize the need for technicians with systems knowledge to connect different administrative levels of organizations in a coordinated or unified manner. This also includes the ability to set up and troubleshoot IIoT-connected systems such as networks of manufacturing equipment as well as integration with broader supply chain networks to increase productivity and quality of services.
  • Data collection, analysis, and visualization—Regional business place significant value in technicians with experience and knowledge of advanced data analysis and mathematical skills. This includes abilities to collect data from multiple sensors (data fusion), visually present information, transform raw datasets, apply pattern recognition methods, and use software for machine learning and other artificial intelligence-based suites.
  • Education and training programs—Community and technical colleges must keep up with the pace of Industry 4.0 technology development to ensure technicians succeed in the workplace. Industry partnerships can play a significant role in coordinating with community colleges to strengthen the pipeline of qualified technicians, including through apprenticeships, specialized training and the development of Industry 4.0 certifications.
  • Stackable credentials—Strengthening the future workforce includes increasing opportunities for learners to achieve a credential that they can build upon over time.

The comprehensive study will serve as a road map for regional workforce development and will inform current and future academic programs at MCC, including the development of the Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center at the Downtown Campus. Upon completion, the 50,000-square-foot state-of-the-art center will offer short-term and accelerated training programs that meet the evolving workforce demands of the region’s industries.

The workshop and study were funded by a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.