Northwest Arkansas Robotics Center Trains Future Workers

Northwest Arkansas Robotics Center Trains Future Workers

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Robotics Training Center in Fayetteville is working to create the largest certified robotics-skilled workforce in the state’s history.

“To the best of our knowledge this training being done at the robotics center focused on high school seniors is the first of its kind in the country,” Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email to Arkansas Business.

The chamber, which provides the center’s operational funding, has won a $336,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to buy robots for it.

The city has been home to the center at 21 W. Mountain St., Suite 226, since June.

Already, 15 students have completed its 35-hour course on tool operation and programming, which is taught over five days, according to Director Josh Watson. Another 84 are enrolled through January.

The center’s motto, which is also its mission, is “Give us a week and we’ll change your life,” he said.

The certification, Watson said, shows employers that the certificate holder knows how to create file and image backups; create payloads, frames and programs; instruct motion and manage inputs and outputs; and has an understanding of branching instructions. Auditory, visual and hands-on learning opportunities are offered, he said.

Clark explained the catalyst behind the center’s creation. “Our chamber board realized that robotics is one part of the presently occurring Fourth Industrial Revolution. The board understood over the next 10 years there will be literally thousands of newly created jobs focusing on robotics and certified technician to operate the robots,” he said. “The logic was, if Fayetteville could build a skilled robotics workforce, particularly under the age of 30, that skilled workforce would attract business, manufacturing and research from around the world.”

Watson said that there are 2,500 robots within 200 miles of Fayetteville built by FANUC, an automation products and services provider. But there aren’t enough certified programmers to work on them.

The center, with partners, is working to close that gap. Its partners are the Arkansas Department of Commerce’s Office of Skills Development, Northwest Arkansas Community College and Northwest Arkansas Educational Cooperative.

Through the Office of Skills Development, the state reimburses Arkansas companies 75% of the cost of the $1,995 per-person course fee so that the companies can train current workers in robotics or grow their workforce with certified robotics technicians.

NWACC is the point of contact for every student seeking training at the center. The college and center also recieved a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to train 120 high school seniors from 15 school districts in Benton and Washington counties.

The co-op touts the benefits of this training to the schools. It also assists the center in meeting its goals of having at least one-third of the students enrolled be female, 1 in 5 of the students enrolled having educational challenges that are either neural or learning, and half of the students enrolled be participants in a school meals program.

The center’s other goals include training at least 360 more high school seniors during the next three years so that the city and northwest Arkansas will have about 500 certified robotics technicians, all under the age of 23.

The center also aims to train 36 certified technicians a month, 10 months a year, between now and 2025. That would result in Arkansas having more than 1,800 certified robotics technicians.

A third goal is, beginning in 2021, to have one-fifth of each year’s training participants come from outside Arkansas.