FAME – A Boost To Local Manufacturing Job Market

Volusia and Flagler counties are embarking this month on one of the nation’s most respected and innovative programs for educating and advancing skilled workers into the local manufacturing industry.

FAME (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) operates through an ‘earn while you learn’ model. Ten participating companies are sponsoring students who will divide their week between working for one of the manufacturers and attending classes at Daytona State College. Upon graduation, they will have an associate degree, be virtually debt-free and have gainful employment as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT). 

The program is a combined effort of local manufacturers, the Volusia Manufacturers Association (VMA), Daytona State College (DSC) and CareerSource Flagler Volusia.  VMA leaders have been working for the past year to organize the local “FL FAME Sunshine Chapter,” and it begins Aug. 13 with a ‘commitment signing’ ceremony for the students, followed by the start of DSC’s fall semester on August 23.

 VMA was introduced to FAME by Frank Mercer, director of DSC’s Center for Business and Industry. “The local manufacturers have been experiencing a skilled labor shortage for years,” comments Jayne Fifer, VMA’s President / CEO. “It appealed to our manufacturers because it was manufacturer-led which meant they could adapt the program to produce workers skilled in the areas most needed, particularly Advanced Manufacturing Technicians,” Fifer adds.

FAME USA was founded in Kentucky in 2010 through an innovative partnership between the Toyota Corporation and the Bluegrass Community and Technical College.  The goal is to help solve a local skills trade shortage while providing a pathway for people to earn a technical degree debt-free. And now the program has expanded to 14 states with 36 chapters and more than 300 engaged employers – including such well-known names as Toyota, GE, Hershey, Caterpillar, Tyson, Trane, Kohler, Xerox and 3M.

FL FAME Sunshine was the first of only two existing Florida chapters to be created, the other being Gulf Coast Chapter in Panama City. The local chapter’s sponsor manufacturers are ABB Group, Boston Whaler, B. Braun Medical, Dougherty Manufacturing, Everglades Boats, Germfree Laboratories, Hudson Technologies, Pentair, SCCY and Sparton.

FL FAME Sunshine Chapter has partnered with DSC to provide classroom and hands-on technical training in multiple manufacturing disciplines – including electronics, mechanical, hydraulics and automation, as well as formal business and professional behaviors such as safety culture, quality tools, workplace organization, teamwork and communication.

Artie Loeffler, CFO of Dynamic Engineering Innovations, VMA chairman and also FL FAME Sunshine Chapter president, explains the national FAME model is used for ‘best practices’ in coordinating the Sunshine National program. But the local chapter has much leeway in adoption of its program. “The local chapter is run by the local manufacturers, with their needs in the forefront,” he says, adding that the chapter has formed a Curriculum Committee to make curriculum changes as requested and needed by local manufacturers.

“The very structure of FAME is innovation at its best,” Fifer adds. “Employers are taking control. It is the only employer-led, learn while you earn training program assuring the manufacturing sponsors that [graduates] will have the skill sets they need to succeed. It is a specific not a generic education program with the professional skills embedded in it (as well as the technical training). It teaches not only the what to do but how to work – the soft skills that are lacking in so many of the workers today.” 

The two-year course lasts five semesters and encompasses about 1,800 hours of learning and work experience. Students work with the manufacturing firm three days a week, applying what they learn from two days in the classroom at DSC’s Advanced Technical Center (ATC) on Williamson Boulevard, Daytona Beach.

Student applicants must be 18 years or older with a high school education to be included in the review process for acceptance. Three separate scholarships (through VMA and Hudson Technologies) totaling $2,000 also are being awarded to select student applicants.

Loeffler says that the Sunshine Chapter set up a minimum salary for the participating companies to pay their sponsored students, although he envisions that some firms will surpass the hourly minimum. It is geared to enable the students to cover their DSC tuition costs – as well as some living expenses – and upon graduation have a well-paying position as an Advanced Manufacturing Technician with no student debt.

“It is a relationship that officially ends at graduation,” Loeffler explains but with the intention that the employee will remain employed in a full time position by the sponsoring company. Fifer adds that the graduates “will have full time jobs with benefits, an education pathway – meaning they can then go on to a bachelor’s degree program if they want; and [will graduate] virtually debt free.  Plus, a network grown while in the program – employers, students, teachers, VMA.”

Currently there are 12 students signed up to start with the DSC fall semester.  “Ideally we would like to start with 20 students, as some of the sponsoring companies are committed to taking on two students,” Fifer says. And Loeffler explains that, with the program becoming an annual endeavor, they could eventually have up to 60 student participants at one time.

VMA and DSC leaders are enthused about the inaugural August 13 ‘signing ceremony,’ which will be at the ATC.  The accepted students will be signing letters of intent to work for a particular manufacturing company while enrolled in the FAME Advanced Manufacturing Technician program at DSC.

“FAME is a great option for students and area companies to explore each other,” says Mike Prins, president of Hudson Technologies. “As a manufacturer, we are regularly looking for talent, specifically talent that wants to grow and learn and contribute,” he adds. “FAME students are at the place in life [where] they want to contribute in meaningful ways. We can offer that and mutually benefit.”

FAME also can be viewed as a progressive way to boost a community’s social and economic quality of life. “This is a win for the student, the employer and the community,” Fifer emphasizes. “Trained workers in high skill, high wage jobs attract more higher paying jobs. Higher paying jobs give the employees more options for home ownership, family life is more stable, the tax base grows and everyone is a winner – and that is a recipe for a higher quality of life.”