A free robotics technician training program offered at Oakland Community College has helped some local residents find jobs.

A free robotics technician training program offered at Oakland Community College has helped some local residents find jobs.

Photo provided by Oakland Community College

Partnership leads to free robotics training, jobs for Oakland County residents

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published July 29, 2021


OAKLAND COUNTY — Since 2017, some local residents have been given what could be described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity via a partnership between Oakland County Michigan Works!, Oakland Community College and the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan.

Unemployed or underemployed people interested in a career in the robotics industry have had opportunities to apply for spots in a programmable logic controller and robotics technicians training program.

According to a press release from Oakland County, both are in high demand across southeast Michigan, with starting pay ranging from $19-$25 per hour, and experienced PLC and robotics technicians earning up to $35 per hour.

The release states that the program has graduated 129 people, with 80% now working full-time in the field.

The training programs are held at OCC’s Auburn Hills campus, with 70% of instruction taking place at robotics labs at the college, in addition to classroom work, according to the release.

OCC Program Manager Kristen Charlton estimated that there are three or four cohorts per year, with a possibility of another one starting in September.

Oakland County’s release states that eligible participants must have a high school diploma or equivalent. Federal and state grants cover the 14-week program’s $7,000 tuition.

“During this year’s Oakland County Economic Outlook presentation, economists from the University of Michigan noted that automation will continue to play a significant role in manufacturing operations,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter stated in the release. “This training program presents an ideal opportunity for people impacted by the pandemic to obtain new skills and pursue a new career path in our region.”

According to Advanced Micro Controls Inc., robotics technicians help design, test, install, maintain, troubleshoot, and fix robots and automation control systems, with a programmable logic controller being an industrial computer control system that continuously monitors the state of input devices and makes decisions based upon a custom program to control the state of output devices.

Manufacturing, health care and public safety are examples of fields that use robotics, with robotic technicians generally working in industrial manufacturing and supply chain/logistics facilities, or with engineers and designers to assemble and test robots, according to the National Center for Supply Chain Automation.

Many robotics-related positions in southeast Michigan are in automotive manufacturing. However, demand for PLC and robotics technicians is expanding into other industries, including medical and pharmaceutical sectors, food preparation, and e-commerce fulfillment, according to Oakland County’s release.

Charlton said that most of the training is non-credit, with those who successfully complete it receiving a certificate of completion from OCC.

“A lot of the graduates are getting hired on by employers that then continue their training for them in house and on the job,” Charlton said. “The goal of the program is to get people up-skilled and then out working in the industry.”

Charlton said 15 people per cohort is the maximum. Perhaps the best part of the program has been the response by employers.

“It’s been very popular over the last few years, and popular with the employers,” Charlton said. “The employers have been at the table since the very beginning, helping identify what skill sets they’re looking for, what curriculum to include. They’ve been happy with it, too; they’ve been hiring out of the program.”

Charlton discussed who instructs students as part of the program.

“We use some of our faculty, but also, we call them subject matter experts — instructors that have been out in the workforce,” she said.

Oakland County Michigan Works! Director Jennifer Llewellyn shared some thoughts about the program.

“This is a very hands-on training program, and those who complete it acquire the certifications needed to step right into a variety of jobs with robotics manufacturers and system integrators in our region,” Llewellyn stated via a release. “Once hired, they often have the opportunity to continue their education and obtain advanced degrees, leading to additional career advancement.”

Those who have found work after going through the program aren’t likely to forget the training they received that helped lead to the opportunity.

“It has been life changing for a number of our participants,” Charlton said.

For more information, visit oaklandcountymiworks.com.