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The Future Requires a New Kind of Workforce Thinking 

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

This was first published back in 2016 but remains as relevant today. Fab Force as a certificate training program was but a concept on a white paper back then. Now, we’ve taken it through the approval processes and added offerings. For 60 years, we’ve told our youth that a college degree was required for their success. We’ve also told them the opportunities were somewhere else and now we wonder why our youth have left. Today, we finally realize that a college degree is not necessary for everyone. There are plenty of examples of non-college graduate technicians and entrepreneurs with 6-figure and above incomes. At the same time, there are plenty of college graduates in the unemployment lines and/or mal employed, doing something totally different than their degree. 

Many in society, including education politicians and policy makers, now acknowledge that a college degree is not required, and we should be promoting trade schools, defined to teach people one skill so they can do the same thing their whole life, working for someone else. While many of our youth don’t want to go to college, they don’t necessarily want to accept the consolation prize of learning one trade and being an employee for their whole career. Coupled with this is the fact that many of those single-focused trades will become obsolete. We believe learning a wide range of skills will set these non-college bound young people up to excel and learn new technologies whether they choose to go out on their own or work for someone. 

From June 30, 2016. We believe the economy of the future—which is now-- will be about customization and individualized products made possible by increased use of automation and robotics in the manufacturing environment.  In order to survive, companies must learn to be agile and successful in this quick-change environment.  “Workforce” members will consist of entrepreneurs, contractors and employees all working to solve the problems of the marketplace, whether working for themselves or working for others.  The distinction between entrepreneurs, contractors and employees will continue to blur and all must possess a wide variety of skills in addition to a single area of knowledge or specialty as in the past. 

We believe the Fab Lab environment provides not only the physical attributes required for this kind of learning, but most importantly, the entrepreneurial mindset that fosters the kind of problem solving and critical thinking needed.  We’re working with our colleagues at Independence Community College to develop a “Fab Force” Certificate that combines elements of Entrepreneurial Mindset, Creative Design, Character, Communication and Conflict Resolution along with introductions to several “hard” skill areas.  Some markets recognized the beginnings of this need several years ago.  “Mechatronics” has become a term to represent a multidisciplinary approach providing a varied knowledge and skillset.   What we’re talking about here is similar but includes a greater emphasis on Entrepreneurial Mindset.  At the equivalent of 15 credit hours it provides benefits as a stand-alone endeavor or as an enhancement to any field of study.  We know that specific applications of these topics in business requires much on-the-job learning, however, we believe the introduction of these topics will provide not only a solid foundational knowledge, but also the attitudes of curiosity and desire for life-long learning required for future success as technology evolves more rapidly. 

 We believe this experiential training will increase the self-efficacy of participants which will greatly increase the elusive “soft skills” for which we’ve all been looking for the last 20 to 30 years. 

This training will be helpful both for those wishing to become independent contractors or small business owners and those wanting to go to work for progressive, innovative companies in our region. 

These are the topical areas we’ll be covering in this certificate approach. 

Electronics 

Robotics 

Welding 

Coating 

Additive (3D printing) and subtractive (machining) manufacturing 

Other "Fab Lab" elements like imaging and graphics printing 

Creative Design (ala Stanford D-School) 

Entrepreneurial Mindset 

Character 

Communication and conflict resolution 

 We believe this is the workforce development training of the future and we strive to be among the leaders in Kansas and our region.  We welcome comments and feedback from manufacturers and small business owners as well as potential trainees.   

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Archive columns and podcast at jimcorrell.com.  


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