Issue: December 2009
Tooling U is improving manufacturing one class at a time.
or even a physical campus. But since its inception in 2002, it has scored big with online training for manufacturing employees.
“There was a tremendous skills gap in manufacturing,” says Chad Schron, vice president of Tooling U. “And with all the baby boomers retiring, the problem was getting worse.”
At the time, Schron was working at tooling-component manufacturer Jergens Inc. as a senior Web developer. His father, Jack Schron Jr., was the company president. Together they recognized how technology could help with the ongoing training needs of manufacturing workers.
So Tooling U began developing online instruction and simulations for all types of manufacturing equipment and work issues — training that could be used by small shops, Fortune 500 companies and community colleges. The Web format could provide instant feedback to students and be accessed from anywhere, anytime without costly machine downtime for the plant.
For example, St. Marys Foundry, a producer of iron castings of up to 60,000 pounds, was interested in a training program for its younger, less experienced maintenance workers.
Steve Barry, plant engineer at St. Marys, connected with Tooling U through a program at Wright State University. “Our overall maintenance effort is much better, resulting in better equipment operation, uptime and productivity,” he says.
St. Marys Foundry employee Jeremy Rentz has taken five levels of Tooling U’s classes for programmable logic controllers, which are used to control many of the plant’s operating systems.
“Since I am not a reader, I liked that the classes had audio,” he says.
And that’s paid off for Rentz — who has applied what he’s learned to changing existing PLC programs and even building a control panel — and the 100-employee company.
“We feel we have better informed and trained individuals,” Barry adds.
The downturn in the economy led to more opportunities for Tooling U. “Education sort of runs countercycle to the economy as a whole,” Schron says. “When people lose their jobs, they go back for training, and we are seeing that at Tooling U.”
To stay current with the changing face of manufacturing, Tooling U has adjusted to new technology and emerging markets. It is focusing less on automotive manufacturing and including more medical, energy, aerospace and defense companies in its client base.
“Tooling U is constantly creating new classes,” Schron explains. Some of that training includes a new robotics curriculum and classes for working in exotic metals used in the manufacturing of medical devices such as replacement joints and implants.
Tooling U has also created a new set of green programs to help workers respond to the need for sustainable energy initiatives.
A huge win for the Tooling U team came in early 2009, when it became the online vendor for SkillsTrac, a regional training network that delivers advanced manufacturing training to workers in western Ohio.
SkillsTrac found everything it was looking for — strong course content, excellent customer service and an easy-to-use online learning management system — in Tooling U, says Ray Lepore, SkillsTrac program director. “Tooling U has met all of these goals exceptionally well,” he says. “To date there have been about 350 trainees in the [SkillsTrac] program from 30 organizations, all of whom have used Tooling U.”
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