New program pathway also allows for stackable, industry-recognized micro-credentials

PETOSKEY—Students planning to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering technology can now begin their education closer to home –– and at a significant cost savings –– thanks to North Central Michigan College’s newest program of study.

Available this fall, the Associate of Science degree with a concentration in Engineering Technology allows graduates to fulfill general education requirements, with a strong foundation in math, science and engineering, prior to moving on to a bachelor’s degree program at a university. Credits earned ­will transfer to North Central’s partner institutions, including Central Michigan University, Ferris State University and Lake Superior State University.

“This pathway will allow for seamless transfer into a four-year program in any engineering specialty,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Stephen Strom. “It’s also an opportunity for students to enter the workforce with industry-recognized certifications, or ‘upskill’ to expand a career as an advanced manufacturing technician.”

The new degree pathway is the latest development in North Central’s bid to become a leader in Industry 4.0, so named because it represents the fourth industrial revolution: smart factories featuring autonomous machines, automated production and advanced robotics powered by data and machine learning.

“Industry 4.0 has brought a higher level of automation and interconnectivity to the manufacturing process,” said Jim Cousino, North Central’s dean of career and technical education. “It is the gold standard for companies who are looking to retrain their current workforce or recruit new employees.”

Embedded within the program’s curriculum are standards set by the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), which is the world’s only credentialling entity that provides certifications and stackable micro-credentials related to Industry 4.0.

Program flexibility and customization are key to setting North Central’s program apart, Cousino noted. They’re also hugely important to students.

“These micro-credentials are endorsements that recognize knowledge and skills in highly-focused areas like electrical systems or Programmable Logic Controller troubleshooting,” he said. “Students can stack them into specialist-level certifications to continually build their resume, or they can work their way up to earning an associate degree.”

Learning will take place inside the college’s new Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Lab, home to hands-on training systems ranging from electro-mechanical systems to industrial robots, fluid power, drives and motors. In the center of the lab is an Amatrol 870 Mechatronics System, a replica of the modern smart factory that integrates each individual lab component into one large, fully automated manufacturing line.

“The Amatrol smart factory is the juncture where each individual engineering discipline meets the skills and competencies we’re teaching,” said instructor Jerry Brusher. “It’s where our students move from knowing that to knowing how.”

And graduates who know the how will be in high demand. Deloitte, a global accounting and consulting firm, cited 2.1 million available skilled manufacturing jobs by 2030. Their report, 2022 Manufacturing Industry Outlook, adds that half of executives expect to increase efficiency through artificial intelligence and technologies like robots and “cobots,” or collaborative robots. These companies will be looking to hire skilled engineers and technicians to program, maintain and repair their robots and machinery, Cousino noted.

“The professional outlook is extremely positive,” he said. “We are preparing our graduates not just for a job, but for a lucrative career.”