By Lisa Morales, Director, East AlabamaWorks

The critical functions of many manufacturing companies are controlled by industrial automation professionals.  If there is a disruption of service in any of the high-tech, computer controlled systems, deadlines are not met, product is not delivered and revenue is compromised.

Demands for trained and educated professionals to maintain the technical systems within an industry is critical now and will only continue to increase in the years to come.  No matter if the company produces flooring, missile parts or an automaker and the suppliers who produce nearly one million cars, SUV’s and light trucks annually in Alabama, they all have one thing in common and that is the dependence on skilled staff who can maximize efficiency and equipment reliability in their company.

So how do we get these skilled employees?  FAME, or Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, combines paid work experience with five semesters of college training.  What makes FAME so unique is the Manufacturing Core Exercises (MCE) and employability skills imbedded in the college curriculum.  MCE’s that students learn as part of FAME are Safety, 5S, Lean Manufacturing, Problem Solving and Machine Reliability.  Students, and ultimately the employers, benefit from the employability skills that are taught including being on time, getting along with a team and work appropriate attire both in school and on the job.

Industry-driven FAME chapters, in many cases organized by Regional Workforce Councils like East AlabamaWorks who operate under the guidance of the Alabama Workforce Council, establish the need and partner with a local community college to deliver the classroom and technical instruction.  Highly trained instructors, many with years of industry employment themselves, provide FAME students with the skills that are then reinforced while the students work for their sponsoring companies.  On graduation day, FAME students leave college with an Associate’s degree and over 3,000 hours of paid work experience.  Graduates from the FAME program are in high demand across the state.

Sponsoring companies benefit from FAME with the cutting edge training students bring to the workplace.  During the classroom and technical training portion, students learn theory and participate in hands on activities.  When they are working with the company, who usually assigns a mentor, they have the ability to reinforce the proficiencies learned.  In many cases, the mentors are also learning the latest developments and keeping up with new technology from the student.  It is a WIN-WIN for all involved.

A repeated concern is the need for a skilled workforce.  After feedback from industry, Alabama Department of Commerce, AIDT and other workforce stakeholders, Governor Kay Ivey established Success Plus, a plan for Alabama with a lofty goal of adding 500,000 newly skilled citizens with a degree, certification or credential by the year 2025.  Secondary and post-secondary schools along with other training providers listen to business needs then work to develop and implement solutions.  FAME is one of those solutions.  The Associate’s degree earned is in Industrial Automation Technology (INT), Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) or a similar field of study and 100% of students who graduate while in FAME have jobs in their career field.

FAME is a national program, which started in Kentucky in 2010, and now has 31 chapters in 13 states with over 400 employers involved.  In Alabama, there are currently 4 chapters with another 4 or 5 planning to start in fall 2020. Recently, at AIDT Robotics Technology Park in Tanner, an announcement was made that the National Association of Manufacturers Manufacturing Institute would be providing FAME programs with support for development and recruitment.  FAME has been highly successful in Alabama and is a model that should be emulated.  It will continue to provide employers with a workforce pipeline for industrial automation professionals, however other sectors within manufacturing and even areas like healthcare are on the horizon.  For economic development organizations who look to lure more companies and jobs to Alabama, FAME is a key selling point.  For prospects to see a community committed to FAME, it tells them the region is ready to meet their needs today and for years to come.

FAME is positively changing the way education and work place behavior is delivered to students and creating the employees of the future.