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Volt Institute

Written by Tyler Richardson and Kevin Fox

It’s an exciting time at VOLT Institute. Two years of planning for scaled-out manufacturing training is finally coming to fruition. New equipment is arriving and being assembled. Additional instructors are coming onboard. Guided by an advisory board comprised of local employers, the organization seeks to adjust and move forward quickly. This includes changes to allow for operations amidst a global pandemic.

While the debates over masks, indoor dining, and county-specific guidelines continue, VOLT Institute never missed a beat. VOLT staff developed and implemented a comprehensive plan to keep students engaged and progressing toward in-demand careers in manufacturing with higher wages and job security. When school closures began in late March, VOLT had remote learning in place and students transitioned seamlessly. By April, other VOLT Institute training opportunities also moved into the virtual realm. 

The Supervisor Development Academy operated in partnership with Ag Safe began meeting online with workshops adjusted to two hour time blocks instead of four. Admittedly, there were concerns that this training for frontline supervisors to tackle real world situations while managing teams would not be as effective in a virtual space, but Ag Safe trainer Angelina Ceja reported that feedback from participants in this workshop remains positive. Volt’s Supervisor Development Academy gives supervisors a foundation to develop skills essential to furthering their personal and organizational success. The program addresses leadership, communication, conflict resolution, planning, and team building with an emphasis on building peer-to-peer relationships.

VOLT Institute’s popular efficiency training, Career Accelerator Program (CAP), taught by Beaudette Consulting INC. was made available remotely as well. This valuable curriculum focuses on organizational change management, continuous improvement, employee engagement, process improvement, and critical thinking problem solving are the “soft skill” training industry demands. Student survey results indicated that the length of time for each of the online training sessions was appropriate and engaging and either met or exceeded expectations. 

VOLT Institute campus reopened June 15 it was with strict COVID-19 protocols in place including mandatory wearing of masks. To ensure social distancing, students comfortable returning to the downtown Modesto campus continued their training on campus by appointment. One-on-one instruction is being offered by VOLT instructors to help students make up time lost during the mandatory shutdown.

Through it all, VOLT administration continues developing new partnerships with regional manufacturers such as the new internship program with Flowers Baking Co. This partnership gives VOLT students an opportunity to receive valuable work experience. Recently, two VOLT graduates have been accepted into E. & J. Gallo Winery’s maintenance apprenticeship program. Other VOLT graduates have started new careers in manufacturing at California’s oldest family-owned dairy, Crystal Creamery and the world’s largest plastic pipe manufacturer, JM Eagle.  Reports from VOLT alumni about promotions and wage increases are too numerous to list but VOLT is especially proud of its 96% job placement rate. 

VOLT also partnered with Valley First Credit Union to provide loans to students. This allows students looking to improve their long-term wage outcomes to apply for funding with most payments deferrable until the program is complete. The application process is online and very user-friendly. In addition, students get to participate in financial wellness training. Before the availability of the loan program, some potential students were deterred by the cost, which is low compared to similar programs of VOLT’s caliber but still represented a modest financial investment.

VOLT’s Senior Leadership Series in partnership with Next Gear Consulting is back. The series is designed to teach top level manufacturing and other executives important skills in strategic planning, building a positive company culture and leadership. Taught by Kristi Marsella, CEO of Next Gear Consulting, and former VP of Human Resources at G3 and E. & J. Gallo Winery, this series is a great opportunity to improve leadership skills. 

One of the most in demand technical skills for plant maintenance mechanics to have as the fourth industrial revolution progresses is a solid understanding of the internet of things. The implementation of complex automation has become the standard throughout industry. VOLT Institute’s partnership with Automation Group to teach both introductory and intermediate Programmable Logic Controls (PLC) courses as part of the award-winning industrial maintenance mechanics programs in a 20-hour boot camps are efficient and helpful for participants. Three boot camps are being offered for the summer session through August and September with assistance from California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC). Reduced student capacity for the training helps accommodate social distancing protocols.

As VOLT continues to receive deliveries from Amatrol, unpack and install new mechatronic, process control, and advanced electrical training equipment from the shipping crates, the vision first conceived three years ago starts to fall into place. Unskilled or semi-skilled workers have the opportunities to acquire the aptitude and the attitude to be competitive in a fast-paced manufacturing environment. They can earn higher wages with job security while fueling a vibrant, healthy economy in the Central Valley Region by strengthening each company’s most valuable asset: their people. All this happens while simultaneously hearing the voices from the advisory board and responding to the needs of investor partners in a rapidly evolving manufacturing industry. Training in electro-mechanical work with advanced programmable logic controls experience and access to nationally-recognized certifications such as National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) coupled with the new technology training are a pathway for long term sustainability for California’s Central Valley manufacturing industry. 

In the midst of a global pandemic, one thing stands out. Strategic planning is how to move forward. The ability to be nimble is a key component to the success of any strategic plan. If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, not the goal. VOLT Institute is proud to be part of the solution for California’s Central Valley manufacturing industry. Higher wages and job security are very good ways to attract new talent to the California manufacturing industry and grow quality of life for those already living in the area. Whether the talent is new to the area or locals with deep roots one thing is certain: VOLT will continue to thrive and provide the quality of training everyone in the area deserves. 

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The Case For a Makerspace in Downtown Fresno

Written by Janelle Smith Ozeran

Fresno Ideaworks, established in 2012 in downtown Fresno, California, is a source of a myriad of tools and creative opportunities. But, like makers everywhere, we also value our friendships, collaborative projects, the comfort of our “third space”, and the therapeutic value of getting our hands dirty as we mold clay, wood, metal, textiles, electronics, or plastics into something new and wonderful. 

Over eight years Fresno Ideaworks has grown from a small group of friendly hackers into a community workshop full of curious and creative people, eager to learn and hone new skills and share them with anyone who comes through our doors.  But since the 16th of March 2020 our doors have been closed to all regular activity – a crushing situation for people who come to the Shop for any reason, and a threatening blow to our survival as a non-profit, all-volunteer, member-driven organization. 

We immediately joined the ranks of makerspaces all over the country, manufacturing PPE for healthcare professionals and other essential workers. Collaborating with two other non-profits in Fresno – Root Access Hackerspace, and Pi Shop Fresno – we designed, manufactured, and delivered more than 4000 pieces of PPE by the first week of May to everyone from hospital nurses to bus drivers, and from mail carriers to food service workers.  We are very proud of our role in helping protect our neighbors and caregivers, but we are also very proud of the collaborative effort. We are already trying to imagine what new projects we can undertake together when our spaces are open again! 

Meanwhile, we have lost nearly 15% of our membership, and watching our family shrink is breaking our hearts. A goal for the immediate future is to establish a sponsorship fund for those former members facing financial hardship because of the COVID-19 experience. Although our membership fees are among the lowest for similar spaces, they are suddenly an impossible luxury for some, even though the emotional health benefits of making and creating would go a long way to ease the anxiety those same people are experiencing. 

We also have to focus more intently on the facility upgrades that will enable us to welcome more members with a greater diversity of skills and abilities throughout the entire space. Maintaining a historic building is already a huge challenge (one we makers welcome), but opening the whole structure to more makers will require the help of angels that embrace our mission. Downtown Fresno, and our Cultural Arts District neighborhood in particular, have suffered the adversity of economic downturn for several decades now. Ideaworks is relentlessly dedicated to being part of the growth of both the economic health of the neighborhood, and, through skill-building and fellowship, part of the economic and emotional well-being of everyone who comes through our doors. 

Please help however you can. Donations to Ideaworks general fund can also be made through our website at https://ideaworksmakerspaces.org/Donate, through Venmo at @Fresno-Ideaworksthrough, or through Givebutter (https://givebutter.com/KbPYYR). And thank you, in advance, from all of us at Fresno Ideaworks.

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