RAMTEC Robotics: A Path to Employment & Economic Development

In 2014, Scott Gould was one of the first high school students to be certified by the leading robotics manufacturer. He was hired by Honda, who also gave him a scholarship.

He’s making $25 an hour as a student working three days a week and going to class two days. He goes to $33 an hour when he graduates this spring (that’s $69k/year–not bad for a 20-year-old), and then at 12 months when he completes his Honda technician training he goes to $43 an hour ($90k/year).

Scott is excited about his job as a maintenance engineer technician at Honda but still talks about coming back to RAMTEC, the robotics program at Tri-Rivers Career Center, to teach someday.

Five years ago Tri-Rivers, like most career centers and community colleges, avoided manufacturer specific certifications. Employers told superintendent Charles Speelman that graduates were not leaving with employable skills. After visiting a robotics park in Alabama, Speelman forged partnerships with manufacturers, Marion Technical College and Ohio State, and RAMTEC was born.

Given Speelman’s willingness to create training partnerships, RAMTEC is able to offer high school students, community college students and adult workers the most current job training in the country. The career center is now a national training provider for two robotics manufacturers.

Tri-Rivers Career Center serves nine northern Ohio high schools with nine career pathways. The RAMTEC foyer is filled with pictures of the history of Marion and the innovations they’re famous for. Students spend half of their day in academics courses to learn core high school curriculum then spend the other half of their day training in robotics, welding and manufacturing.  

Students program the latest robots from FANUC and Yaskawa Motoman–sometimes side by side with an adult worker updating his/her skills. They learn to use a Lincoln welder through virtual simulation. They tear down robots and put them together to learn pneumatics and hydraulics. RAMTEC graduates are ready to step into good paying jobs and continue learning advanced skills. RAMTEC is also at the forefront of additive manufacturing (3D printing). Students learn to design and create parts in CAD software.

The most interesting feature of RAMTEC is how this career center seamlessly combines high school, community college and adult training. During the day and most evenings, RAMTEC opens up their training center for companies to send their employees for training or for community members to get certifications in order to find work. The training includes robotic welding, robotic material handling, hydraulics and pneumatics, and metal fabrication—a great way to use the space creatively and bring in new revenue.

Many days visitors see a high school student working together or even training a working adult on how to operate the machines. Students are learning soft skills that are often not teachable via classroom instruction and are making real world connections that will help them beyond high school.

Jeff Martin, also a senior, spends a lot of time focused on robotics and writing code. We asked him if he had competed in Vex Robotics Competitions and he replied, “Yeah, I’ve won five.” He can write hundreds of lines of robotics code in minutes. Jeff’s passion and excitement for the work he’s doing at school is evident. Jeff showed us the latest robots that have a camera and use vision in order to pick and sort different colored pills or other objects.

Scaling Success in Ohio

Launched in 2013, Ohio’s Straight A Innovation Fund was a $250 million competitive grant challenge that made more than 50 awards to school districts and nonprofits. RAMTEC received grants totaling $22 million to expand to 22 additional career centers in order to address the skills gap by preparing high school and adult students with advanced manufacturing and engineering skills.

Dr. Charles Speelman, superintendent of Tri-Rivers Career Center

Speelman is also working on three new sites outside Ohio that may be launching within the year.

“We also have developed a strategic partnership with Pearson to develop an online advanced manufacturing curriculum with hands-on certification and assessment through RAMTEC or other certified centers,” said Speelman.

RAMTEC is graduating hundreds of robotics-ready students ready for careers and further learning. Through the growing RAMTEC network, thousands of students will have access to the valuable program. The new curriculum and certification program could increase program availability by an order of magnitude.

This blog is an update to a blog that ran January 2015.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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