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Improving Education Pathways by Listening to the Voice of Industry

By Emily McGrath, Director of Workforce Development and Education, NextFlex

NextFlex, in partnership with Evergreen Valley College, the National Science Foundation, and Silicon Valley manufacturers, launched a new Advanced Manufacturing Technology education program in September 2020. Designed to teach students the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to be competitive, innovative, and technically agile hires in the local advanced manufacturing ecosystem, this new education pathway was developed in collaboration with extensive industry engagement.

Beginning with industry assistance in identifying relevant courses and writing curriculum, the program not only incorporates adjuncts to teach the classes that lead to an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Certificate, but also builds in guest lectures, labs, and manufacturing facility tours to ensure students are immersed in every aspect of industry 4.0. This spring NextFlex and EVC are partnering with local advanced manufacturing employers to host company tours around Silicon Valley so students can see first-hand what goes on an industrial facility and learn about manufacturing enterprise processes, company cultures, and career paths.

At a recent tour with our partner Flex Interconnect Technologies, President and CEO Chetan Shah highlighted the intricacies of multitier supply chains while demonstrating how flex and rigid-flex solutions are manufactured. During the tour, students saw for themselves the challenges associated with maintaining continuity of supply and learned how the broader manufacturing ecosystem works to bring complex products to market. This information is much more interesting when students can see for themselves the equipment, tools, and materials used in a real manufacturing environment.

Students also toured NextFlex’s Technology Hub with Director of Fab Operations, Dr. Art Wall, to learn how technology development leads to scaled manufacturing. During this tour, students learned about the process of design and prototyping for emerging technology devices and systems, and the decisions that must be made to move from one development stage to the next, ultimately achieving commercialization and volume scale manufacturing.

The class closed out their tour circuit with Cobham Advanced Electrical Solutions (CAES), where they learned about continuous improvement and lean manufacturing processes, in addition to quality assurance, safety, and output. In all three tours, students were given the opportunity to see how the manufacturing theory they study in the classroom plays out in the context of real-world problems, where engineers and technicians must navigate the complexities of R&D and scaled production.

Led by Evergreen Valley College Dean of Business and Workforce Development Dr. Maniphone Dickerson, the new Advanced Manufacturing Technology certificate program is designed to address a national need for creative and forward-thinking technicians and technologists. Via comprehensive foundational classes, hands-on and challenging labs, active industry participation and work-based learning, students will emerge from the program with critical thinking and analysis skills, cognitive flexibility, and the entrepreneurial mindset essential to success in Industry 4.0. NextFlex is proud to be working with this dynamic group of future-thinking partners, both from industry and academia, and looks forward to seeing our first students transition into the workforce after successful completion of the Advanced Manufacturing Certificate program.