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This program trains warehouse workers to do more fulfilling jobs and has robots do the rest

Festo employee Jeri Harper on the job.
Colleen Kelley
Courtesy of Festo
Festo employee Jeri Harper on the job.

One reason you may not get your Christmas gift on time is because online retailers are struggling to find warehouse workers. Employees complain of redundancy, injury and low pay.

Procter & Gamble, Amazon, Walmart, and others are increasingly adding robots to the mix, as WVXU reported in 2019. But workers, who used to do jobs now done by robots, need to be retrained or "upskilled." In fact, a new Gallup and Amazon upskilling study finds 48% of American workers would switch to a new job if offered skills training opportunities.

The job of retraining workers is becoming more urgent, according to a 2018 report by McKinsey & Company, and has been accelerated by the pandemic.

So how do you do it?

Enter Festo, a German company, who makes components for pneumatics and automation. It wants its employees to work alongside robots (or "cobots"), doing things robots could never do, like diagnosing problems, repairing machines and figuring out factories of the future. Employee Spencer Kuritar sees robots as a helping hand.

“More of a tool that we as humans can actually manipulate for ourselves, instead of the robots manipulating us, taking our jobs,” he says

Festo has a didactic training center to upskill its workers and others. Kuritar went through it. This two-and-a half-year associate degree is in automation technologies. Students work three days a week, go to didactic training one day a week and a community college another day.

(back to the camera) Director of Operations Sean O'Grady and COO Kim Harper-Gage study one of the Didactic Training Center's most advanced machines.
Ann Thompson
(back to the camera) Director of Operations Sean O'Grady and COO Kim Harper-Gage study one of the Didactic Training Center's most advanced machines.

COO at Festo’s Mason production and distribution facility Kim Harper-Gage says the result is better use of resources with upskilled employees. “When we think about the material flow here, where do we have opportunity? Where do we have redundancy? And we’re looking at various cobots and different solutions to help us do that more efficiently.”

Helping students train is state-of-the-art equipment. There’s a machine that simulates a factory and an augmented reality system that teaches how to set up maintenance systems and repair parts.

“And then by clicking that it will lead to the user manual for that, the part number for that, operator instructions for that,” Director of Operations Sean O’Grady explains. “And so that allows our students to play hands-on and learn what the technology that’s just now starting to be implemented into the factories of the future.”

The Robotic bird and bugs Festo designs help the company learn and innovate for the future.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.