About 300 students in two Greer schools are beginning to use cutting-edge educational materials to learn the skills they need to land a job in advanced manufacturing, as industry leaders seek a larger pool of highly skilled workers.
The online courses developed at Clemson University are aimed at teaching “soft skills” and showing how science, technology, engineering and math can be fun and used in local industry. The skills are in high demand across the nation but especially in the Greer area, home to BMW, the inland port and several auto suppliers.
The courses could be the future of education not only in Greer but across the state, said Katie Witherspoon, director of communications at the Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce.
“This is a pilot program with Clemson to test it out in schools, but the ultimate goal is to take this much broader than just 300 students,” Witherspoon said. “Our ultimate goal would be to prove this is a great concept that could be used statewide.”
The courses come from a program packaged as EducateWorkforce. They include video lectures and electronic books, alongside virtual reality simulations that borrow from the world of video games to add realism that would be lacking in a textbook alone.
One lesson, for example, has students moving through a manufacturing facility from a first-person viewpoint, except they are looking for safety violations instead of blasting zombies.
The Clemson University Center for Workforce Development created EducateWorkforce and is collaborating with the Greer Chamber to offer the courses at Greer High School and the J. Harley Bonds Career Center.
CBL State Savings Bank provided a $10,000 grant to make the program possible.
More than 1,000 students in 22 states, mostly in high schools and technical colleges, have used EducateWorkforce courses. The program is broken up into several courses that can be taken separately or together. Courses offered vary from school to school.
Justin Ludley, principal of Greer High, said that students are using EducateWorkforce to learn about soft skills and manufacturing and that some have already received certificates for completing the soft skills course.
“That’s so important to start emphasizing those skills right now – those social and emotional skills,” Ludley said. “You can teach people the technical skills if they’re willing. Those soft skills are sometimes the hardest ones to teach.”
Students access the courses through the chamber’s GreerMade website. For each course completed, students will receive a certificate of completion that helps highlight their new skills to employers.
They are aligned with standards set by Manufacturing Skills Standards Council. It’s the nation’s leading certification agency for workers in front-line manufacturing production and supply chain logistics.
Michael Parris, director at the Bonds Career Center, said he likes that when students complete a unit, they can print out a document for their portfolios. While some courses are specific to industry, the one on soft skills could apply to all to students, he said.
“I would like to use it for all of our classes,” Parris said.
Six courses are included as part of the collaboration: soft skills; exploring advanced manufacturing and workforce fundamentals; manufacturing safety; quality practices and measurement; manufacturing processes and production; and manufacturing maintenance.
Rebecca Hartley, director of operations for the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development, said that EducateWorkforce helps the educational system keep up with automated technologies that are transforming jobs.
“We have worked closely with stakeholders in industry and education to develop EducateWorkforce,” she said. “Students in high schools and technical colleges around the country are using this innovative approach to learn about advanced manufacturing, and now it is available in Greer.”
The virtual reality simulations were designed by Kapil Chalil Madathil, the director of technology operations at the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.
“They allow students to practice tasks over and over in a safe environment,” he said. “Students are then better prepared to use physical equipment in the lab or workplace. Our goal was to make the curriculum unique.”
Two interconnected Clemson organizations worked together to create EducateWorkforce, primarily as a means of disseminating educational content to a large number of students.
Those organizations are the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools, also known as CA2VES, and the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson, is the principal investigator of CA2VES.
“EducateWorkforce is a new national model to deliver workforce education tools,” Gramopadhye said. “Collaboration with the Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce brings these tools to the Greer area and helps accelerate the transformation of the economy for our state and region.”
By Paul Alongi, Clemson University