November 22, 2021

Hartnell, Festo Didactic partner on move to improve skilled labor availability

New technology in agriculture is reshaping the future of farming. The transformation of the agricultural sector, in what is also becoming a highly automated work environment in produce processing and packaging, requires a tech-savvy, skilled workforce.

With tech innovation outpacing workforce development, the technical skills gap that currently exists is putting a strain on many agricultural communities.

“We need 1,000 people right now that we don’t have,” said Clint Cowden, Dean of Academic Affairs for Hartnell College. “The mechanical innovation is here, but who’s trained to use it?”

According to a report by Edelman Intelligence and Shell, almost half (45%) of farming businesses globally admit they are facing a lack of expertise and training; 31% said they think there is insufficient advice on how to best maintain equipment for current staff; and 74% think inadequate expertise of staff plays a role in machinery breakdowns.

After touring modern manufacturing and produce processing and packaging facilities, Cowden and the Hartnell team began seeking out the type of learning equipment needed to educate and train students for the future of work. “Instead of focusing on price, we focused on who can fulfill the skills training and build the biggest and best product. We knew we needed a partner who was up-to-speed on Industry 4.0, then we found Festo,” Cowden said.

Hartnell’s community college students will soon receive a customized Cyber-Physical Factory learning system from Festo Didactic. The simulated Smart Factory includes integrated logistics, communication, mechatronics, robotic assembly and troubleshooting capabilities. It’s fully networked and virtually integrated with HMI (human-machine interface), PLCs, Data Acquisition, Collection and Analysis (SCADA) and wireless connection networking. The factory also utilizes material handling robots with infrared vision capability for advanced robotic training.

“Festo’s cyber-physical training system emulates what it’s like to work in a modern industrial setting,” said Tony Oran, Vice President of Festo Didactic North America. “The hands-on experience, with exposure to advanced automation and related technologies, is invaluable for students and anyone looking to up-skill in order to qualify for Industry 4.0 careers.”

In regards to local industry partners, Hartnell received crucial seed funding from Taylor Farms in 2019 to help jumpstart its Manufacturing Technology program. Rio Farms has also made long-term investments to impact Hartnell’s graduate pipeline.

“We know what we need, and we know that Hartnell can provide the education we need as an industry,” said David Gill, partner at Rio Farms. “We need additional training, we need technicians, we need automation, we need students who have software knowledge — and our equipment today is more technical than ever.”

When asked about future endeavors, Cowden added: “We’re trying to work with middle school and high school teachers to show them what we’re doing and expose them to Industry 4.0. We need to work together to build a strong student pipeline of future graduates who will enter into these programs.”

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