Experienced workers and robots: AARP, St. Petersburg College launch new initiative

Posted on 10/23/20 by Dave Bruns

AARP and St. Petersburg College are launching a new initiative to help older workers – particularly military veterans – build advanced skills to install, maintain and repair modern industrial robots and other cutting-edge electromechanical manufacturing equipment.

Mature company manager and worker going through reports in industrial facility.

The initiative will be financed in part through grants from the Florida Department of Education through its Mechatronics and Electromechanical Technician Training (METT) grant program.  St. Petersburg College’s Engineering, Manufacturing and Building Arts program will provide the training.  AARP will help recruit older workers, including veterans, to take part in the training. 

“Especially in today’s challenging economic environment, it’s exciting to be a part of this initiative to get older workers into this training and these jobs,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director.  “Older workers who develop these advanced skills will be able to put not only their technical knowledge but also their rich life experience into helping to build tomorrow’s industrial base.  It’s a win for everyone involved.”

Under the grant from the state agency, students will be able to take the first three courses and obtain one certification free of charge.  Normally, each course costs students $199 and each certification is an additional $50.  After the first three courses, students will be responsible for paying for additional courses.

After completing their training, students will be eligible to receive career counseling through the college’s existing career support programs, helping students to prepare resumes and prepare to apply for jobs. 

“The low-cost to free advanced training in mechatronics, creates flexible training opportunities in advanced manufacturing.  With the acquired hands-on experience and industry knowledge, participants can become workforce-ready, which can benefit the needs of local industry as well as aid in further professional development,” said Lara Sharp, St. Petersburg College’s Program Director for Engineering, Manufacturing, and building Arts. 

The training opportunities include:

  • Basic electricity and electronics.  Students will learn foundational skills in analyzing wiring diagrams, electrical and electronic diagnostic tools, control logic components and circuit function.
  • Programmable logic controllers (PLC) and other devices.  PLCs are essential tools in modern automated industrial control systems.  Students will learn how to program a PLC to operate automated industrial equipment as well as protocols of industrial communications between computers and programmable logic controllers.
  • Robotics.  Students will learn about industrial robotics, including basic system components, robotic motion concepts, key programming techniques and principles of preventive maintenance, including reading robotic error codes and integrating robotic applications into a PLC-controlled automated manufacturing system.
  • Fluid power and electrohydraulics/pneumatics.  This course will help students understand, troubleshoot and safely work on electronically controlled hydraulic or pneumatic manufacturing systems.

In the Tampa Bay area, the manufacturing industry employs 65,186 workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly half of those jobs are in Pinellas County. Manufacturing employees in Pinellas County earn an average salary of $62,422 a year.
Applicants for the training will meet with professors and other staff to assess their existing skills and determine the level of training needed to meet the student’s career goals.  Students will be given assessment pre-tests that will help guide their technical development.  Program staff will work with veterans to ensure that their military experience is taken into consideration in designing their training. 

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