GREENVILLE — Lots of us probably sing along to the Japanese lyrics of “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,” by the rock band Styx.
But for many Americans, that’s where the knowledge of Asia and technology end.
On Tuesday, Rep. John Moolenaar learned how officials at Montcalm Community College (MCC) are working to infuse certain aspects of Asia — in this case, Chinese — into the Montcalm County culture.
The Republican Congressman from Midland toured MCC’s Bill Braman Family Center for Education in Greenville, which is in its third year of operation.
According to MCC President Bob Ferrentino, the college is currently working on developing a conversational Chinese language class due in part in response to local parents who want to communicate in Chinese with their children who are taking Chinese language classes at Greenville Public Schools. The initiative is also due in part to Dicastal, a Chinese company in the process of opening its first North American aluminum wheel manufacturing plant in Greenville, which is expected to employ 300 people.
Dicastal will be using ABB, FANUC and KUKA robotics in the workplace. MCC is a FANUC authorized training center and has already done training for Dicastal employees. ABB and KUKA robotic trainers are expected to arrive in Montcalm County in February and will train MCC instructors.
Moolenaar was introduced to Baxter, a workplace robot worth approximately $22,000 to manufacturers, according to MCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Vice President Rob Spohr.
“Could Baxter join me in the Danish Festival parade?” Moolenaar joked.
“Sure, but he’ll steal the show,” Spohr warned.
MCC will be receiving Sawyer, a high performance collaborative robot, in the near future. Spohr noted MCC will be the first educational facility in the United States to receive Sawyer due in part to the college’s interest and work with robotics in manufacturing.
“A lot of manufacturing work is turning to robotics and our job is to make sure we’re ahead of the curve,” Ferrentino noted.
Moolenaar toured manufacturing training classrooms at MCC’s Greenville facility, with amenities such as a motor control room that teaches basics to journeymen, hydraulic trainers, desktop CNC mills, motors, welding, computer classrooms (where the student assignment is to wire the entire room) and a new photography classroom where students can learn about photos, video and marketing those skills.
Moolenaar questioned what skills are in demand at local manufacturing facilities.
“Just basic skills,” said MCC’s Dean of Community & Workforce Education Susan Hatto. “If they can read a tape measure and do basic math, they’d be hired. If they showed some aptitude, then they would be trained from there. But we can’t find those people. Finding people who can pass a drug test is also a problem.”
As part of a push toward educating and inspiring local children and teenagers to consider a career in manufacturing, about 50 high school students toured a slew of manufacturing facilities last September in Greenville. Local teachers and counselors are doing the same with the goal of presenting this career option to students.
“Many of them had no idea that this is happening in the community,” Hatto noted.
“We have some people with master’s degrees, but they’re coming here for manufacturing training because these are where the jobs are now,” Spohr added. “The world is changing, and it’s changing rapidly.”
Moolenaar asked how he could help Montcalm County. Ferrentino said it’s all about promoting the ever-changing workforce.
“One of the dirty little secrets of Montcalm County is over the past few years, only 51 percent of high school graduates go on to college,” Ferrentino shared. “Where are the other 49 percent?
“Around here, a lot of folks have been kicked in the butt with layoffs and their quality of life has diminished, and that’s tough,” he admitted. “A lot of them are like, ‘my kid is not going to get into manufacturing,’ but we’re talking about highly skilled high tech jobs here that need to be filled. A lot of these young folks don’t have a clue about the job opportunities. We’ve got to bring this stuff to them. We always talk about rebuilding our community, but without a solid workforce, that’s not going to happen.”
Moolenaar expressed interest and appreciation in MCC’s ongoing effort to create a community conversation about the local workforce.
“I’m thrilled with what you’re doing because I think it makes a huge difference for kids,” he said. “I think anytime you can help someone understand their aptitude and then find a path to pursue that, it’s a great thing.”