October 7, 2019

MARTINSVILLE BULLETIN - Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., says a national-first manufacturing training program at Patrick Henry Community College is “great news” for the community.

PHCC announced Friday that it would be the first institution to offer the highest level of training on a manufacturing system called Industry 4.0 through Festo and NC3. This advanced training prepares students on advanced manufacturing systems that employ robotics, automation and human-machine interfacing.

“PHCC is a great partner in our economic development recruitment efforts and this will set M-HC apart from our competition,” Heath wrote in an email. “The EDC congratulates PHCC on this milestone.”

 Henry County Deputy Administrator Dale Wagoner also had praise.

“PHCC continues to be the leader in providing relevant educational opportunities that can lead to quality employment,” Wagoner said in an email. “The specialized training will be a nice complement to our efforts to recruit advanced manufacturing to our community.”

PHCC said in a release that the new program not only would teach students to work with the newest innovations in manufacturing technology, but students also would learn how to adapt to emerging technologies and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist.

PHCC began pursuing Industry 4.0 in August 2018 and has issued more than 300 certifications to students. A few months later PHCC led the nation into the second level. Now, just more than a year since the program’s inception, PHCC is forging ahead into level three.

College officials say that the local demand for a highly-trained workforce is driving the program’s rapid growth.

“Nationally and locally, there are more jobs available in this field than there are qualified applicants,” Rhonda Hodges, PHCC vice president of workforce, economic, and community development, said in the release. “Typically, as soon as our students complete their training, they get a job.

“The number of businesses requiring these skills among their workforces grows rapidly. Our local employers need every viable graduate at each available training level.”

At a recent event to announce the program, Thomas Lichtenberger, the president of Festo Didactic, praised PHCC. “After being here and seeing what you’ve accomplished, I am blown away,” he said. “What you have accomplished here is really unique. […] We are very proud to be your partners.”

Festo Didactic is a global leader in manufacturing cyber-physical systems and has been a key partner with PHCC since the inception of the college’s Industry 4.0 program. Other partners are National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), American Electric Power Foundation, The Harvest Foundation, and several local employers and educational entities, PHCC’s release said.

 PHCC President Angeline Godwin described Industry 4.0 as “a new, next-generation industry.”

For area companies such as Mehler Engineered Products, Eastman, Georgia Pacific and Hanesbrands, having employees with level-three skills could enable facilities to modernize processes, reduce downtime and ultimately increase production.

David Cook of Mehler said that companies like his are actively working to “bring the machinery, equipment and everything to the next level – the level that it should be.”

To accomplish that goal, having technicians who can work on these machines at the higher level the equipment requires “is extremely important,” he said in the release announcing the program.