Can ‘Reverse Internships’ Help Grow the Labor Force?

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A student from Ranken’s microenterprise industry partnership program works on a heater.
A student from Ranken’s microenterprise industry partnership program works on a heater.

Baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day — taking their technical and institutional knowledge with them — leading to a shortage of skilled workers. But thanks to an innovative collaboration between pool pump manufacturer Nidec and Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, Mo., more young people are learning about pool pumps and plumbing every day.

In 2017, Nidec installed a test stand for pool and spa pump motors at Ranken, and since that time, students in the school’s microenterprise program have been using the display to learn about variable speed pumps and how to handle electric and plumbing hookups.

“We know we must continually invest in our workforce to be an industry leader,” says Nidec Vice President of Engineering John Hussey. “Our highly trained and skilled workers are retiring, and there are not enough properly-trained replacements for them.”

RELATED: Finding the Next Generation

Ranken has used a microenterprise training model since 2010, providing students with work experience, training, college credit and supplemental earnings.

Sometimes described as “reverse internships,” Ranken’s microenterprises are located directly on its campus. Companies provide their leading-edge equipment and technologies and students learn how to perform a range of technical services, from inspecting parts and assembling products to testing functions, conducting quality control and filing reports. In addition to receiving pay as part-time employees, students receive Workforce Education college credits available through Ranken’s Manufacturing Cooperative department.

In 2019, Nidec’s Ranken operations will be moving and expanding into a new 26,000-square-foot facility, built as a public/private initiative, driven by industry demands. Ranken’s Manufacturing Center’s real-life industrial environment will serve 100 to 150 students while also producing goods and services for Nidec and five other global companies.

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