The robots are here; who is going to fix them?

Sarah Boisvert is co-founder of the New Collar Network in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of Sarah Boisvert)

In 2018—19, I participated in National Governors Association round tables to gather feedback for a “Future Workforce Now” toolkit they were preparing for states.

One of the more illuminating comments from the participants came from a Walmart HR consultant: “Corporate is bringing in janitorial robots to our stores today and HR’s biggest worry is who is going to fix them?”

Just as workforce transitioned from the horse and buggy days to the automobile age, jobs are changing. Today, It’s déjà -vu in workforce transformation. The robots are here and we need humans to program, monitor, and yes, fix them when broken. The robots do the heavy lifting, freeing humans to do what we do best – innovate!

Blue collar jobs are now digital, creating what IBM’s Ginni Rometty calls New Collar Jobs. These are engaging, well-paying career paths using tools like 3D printers, lasers, robots, CAD design, AI VR and more disruptive technologies that are being implemented across industries.

Previously the purview of manufacturing, robots are now cleaning big retail stores, assisting in surgeries and moving heavy boxes in warehouses. The VA Hospital in Albuquerque was selected as the national lead in a program to implement 3D printing for health care and dentists and dental labs are 3D scanning, then printing crowns, bridges and clear braces. This is happening all over the country and we recently identified 1,000 jobs projected to be open now and into the next 2—5 years in New Mexico for technicians that require 3D printing skills. And that was a small study of only four employers.

Many of these jobs do not require college degrees but specific skills are needed to operate 3D printers, program and repair automation tools, and create in Computer-Aided Design or CAD. For decades, IBM and Mozilla have led an international micro-certification program of digital badges that adhere to standards ensuring security of badge earner status.

Based in these digital badge standards, the New Collar Network, based in Santa Fe, developed a series of badges for these New Collar jobs. Teaching everything from CAD design, operating 3D printers, design thinking, prototyping principles, CNC router machining and more, students earn employable skills. We are also seeing increased employer acceptance of skills over degrees, including a White House directive for the entire federal government’s hiring practices to make this shift.

New Collar Innovation Center

But it takes collaboration and partnerships to accelerate change. Luckily, Santa Fe Community College President Dr. Becky Rowley recognizes a changing dynamic in education and has driven a public-private partnership at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center. SFCC has partnered with the New Collar Network that is part of the MIT Fab Lab Network to offer digital badges in New Collar job skills and with Fab Lab Hub, LLC, a digital contract manufacturing company in Santa Fe, to provide earn-as-you-learn jobs for badge earners.

Fab Lab Hub was recently granted a U.S. Department of Labor registered apprenticeship for 3D printing apprentices and in March 2021 hired two displaced COVID-19 workers to launch the apprenticeships with full-time salaries and free New Collar digital badge training. The team will also be offering a four-week 3D printing bootcamp that is free, thanks to a grant from the Ready NM program.

The New Collar Innovation Center partnership hopes to innovate education and workforce training, as well as foster entrepreneurship for startups creating New Collar Jobs.

I believe the New Collar workforce that innovates to solve the world’s most pressing problems will create a shining future for all humankind.

Sarah Boisvert is the founder Fab Lab Hub, LLC, and co-founder of The New Collar Network. She’s also the author of “The New Collar Workforce: An Insider’s Guide to Making Impactful Changes to Manufacturing and Training.” The executive’s desk is a guest column providing advice, commentary or information about resources available to the business community in New Mexico. To submit a column for consideration, email gporter@abqjournal.com.

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