Earn your degree and certifications at the same time at Motlow

Motlow State Community College Mechatronics student Adam Butler works with equipment to program a robotic arm at the College’s McMinnville campus. (Photo Credit: Motlow State Staff )

LOCAL EDUCATION NEWS — Motlow State Community College is integrating more and more short-term industry-recognized credentials into its traditional degree plan. One of these programs is Mechatronics, which offers valuable certifications and short-term credential training embedded into courses.

These added credentials ensure employers that the College has a robust, market-responsive curriculum that develops a student’s subject matter knowledge, as well as specific high-demand skillsets. These certifications, known as micro-credentials, are value-added evidence of competencies that help Motlow graduates maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace and help the College develop strong partnerships with growing industries.

Credentials Companies Want Employees to Have

In addition to embedding these high-demand credentials into degree plans, Motlow also teaches some of these certifications as multi-day courses for those already working in the mechatronics field, but who are not Motlow students.

“Companies often send individuals to get certified, and either the individual will pay for it out of their own pocket or the company will pay for the course. Motlow students will already have these highly-desired certifications, graduating with about $4,000 worth of credentials,” explained Larry Flatt, executive director of Motlow’s Automation and Robotics Training Center.

Many of these micro-credentials are stackable, meaning students can earn multiple micro-credentials that they can roll into a major certification after graduation. These credentials quickly pay off when students want to find a job, get a raise, or even when seeking a promotion.

In addition to Motlow’s traditional degree-seeking students, “people come from all over the country to attend these classes and get certifications that our students will already have. It benefits them because they don’t have to come back and get certified and it benefits companies because they don’t have to pay to send them here,” said Flatt.

“It always helps us, as employers, when graduates already have the same certifications that we are sending our own current employees to obtain.  It gives us a common technical knowledge base to build on” said Shane Buchanan, general manager of Corporate Production Engineering at Kasai North America. Buchanan formerly taught mechatronics courses at Motlow’s McMinnville and Smyrna campuses from 2012-17 and served as the director of mechatronics for 2016-17.

Motlow State is an authorized trainer for multiple companies

Through Yaskawa, a global manufacturer of industrial robots, students can obtain certifications in Robotics Safety Principles, Intro to Robotics, Basic Operator Training, and Basic Programming with Material Handling. The first three are completed as part of the Intro to Robotics course that all Mechatronics students must complete. The fourth is completed only by those seeking to attain an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) with a robotics concentration during the Robotics Safety and Operation course. These courses are available to both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students. It is available for the non-degree seeker as short-term training, usually funded by the company where the individual currently works.

“The certifications are built into the courses at Motlow so that students can complete any necessary exams as part of their classes and have a certification to add to their resumes,” added Flatt. “This is validation for the students that shows that someone outside of Motlow affirms they can perform what Motlow taught.”

Beginning in Fall 2021, Motlow is now offering additional micro-credentials through the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA). These credentials are stackable skill standards that allow students to meet Industry 4.0 standards towards additional SACA certifications, such as C-101 Basic Operations, C-102 Advanced Operations, and C-103 Robot System Operations.

“SACA is a fast-growing non-profit industry certification company whose goal is to develop accessible and affordable certifications,” said Rick Rogers, mechatronics instructor at Motlow. He is also the Dual Enrollment Representative for the College’s Fayetteville campus.

“We hope that by the end of their time at Motlow, students have completed enough of the micro-credentials to be able to obtain their full industry certification,” said Flatt.

Over the summer, Motlow’s mechatronics instructors were enrolled as students with SACA in order to best determine which micro-credentials can be embedded and the best way for it to be embedded. Motlow instructors teach the material, then students utilize a learning management platform to complete tests through SACA and obtain credentials.

Standardized Training Throughout Motlow’s Programs

The certifications and credentials offered are standard across Motlow campuses and include dual enrollment students still in high school.

“Anything we teach on a Motlow campus, we also include in the high school dual enrollment training. Those students learn the same things and earn the same certifications,” said Mechatronics Instructor Melissa Paz.

“The SACA certifications demonstrate the students’ knowledge of the courses in the Mechatronics program. Industry needs are becoming more specialized. Workers must be lifelong learners and continue to add to their skillsets. SACA certifications are free to the student and enable them to build a portfolio that documents their education and experience they can share with a potential employer,” explained Rogers.

Ensuring Students Graduate with the Right Skills

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2018, two-thirds of Americans believe students aren’t getting the skills they need for the workplace. Motlow is making sure its students have the necessary skills and certifications employers want.

“Having a diploma is a first step in landing a career. Next, is having these credentials that show Motlow’s graduates have the ability to do the work that is required and that it was verified by industry professionals,” said Paz. “When students graduate from Motlow they can go to work making at least $20 an hour, and these credentials help them do that, setting them apart from the competition.”

There is a growing industry call for educators to speed up the process of embedding certifications into degrees. Motlow has been offering robotic company certifications since 2019 and is working to expand on what it can offer mechatronics students.

Paz is currently working to incorporate two additional SACA standard credentials for the robotics concentration students this semester. Both are Industry 4.0 Certifications: Robotic Operations 1 and Robotic Systems 1.

“Micro-credentials and certifications are important milestones in our degree programs.  As a student progresses through mechatronics, earning the micro-credentials and certifications can be short-term goals that hopefully will encourage them to persevere and complete their education,” said Rogers. “We aim to guarantee success for our students in education and future employment.”

For more information about Motlow’s mechatronics and robotics programs, contact [email protected]. •