Feb. 17, 2021

Reimagine Training

Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers. In episode 3 of the podcast, the topic is: Re-imagining workforce training. Our guest is Sarah Boisvert, Founder and CEO Fab Lab Hub, LLC and the non-profit New Collar Network.

In this conversation, we talk about re-imagining workforce training, industry 4.0., what do you mean by “New Collar” jobs? We discuss the mushrooming of Fab Labs. What skills are needed? How can they be taught? How can the credentials be recognized? .What has the impact been? Where do we go from here.

After listening to this episode, check out Sarah Boisvert's online profile as well as the New Collar Network:

Augmented is a podcast for leaders in the manufacturing industry hosted by futurist Trond Arne Undheim, presented by Tulip.co, the manufacturing app platform, and associated with MFG.works, the open learning community launched at the World Economic Forum. Our intro and outro music is The Arrival by Evgeny Bardyuzha (@evgenybardyuzha), licensed by @Art_list_io.

Thanks for listening. If you liked the show, subscribe at Augmentedpodcast.co or in your preferred podcast player, and rate us with five stars on Apple Podcasts. To nominate guests,  to suggest exciting episode topics or give feedback, follow us on LinkedIn, looking out for live episodes, message us on Twitter @augmentedpod or our website's contact form. If you liked this episode, you might also like episode 3: How to Train Augmented Workers. Augmented--the industry 4.0 podcast.


Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:00:00] Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers. Technology is changing rapidly. What's next in the digital factory? Who's leading the change? And what are the key skills to learn? How to stay up to date on manufacturing and industry 4.0. Augmented is a podcast for leaders in the manufacturing industry.

[00:00:29] Hosted by futurist Trond Arne Undheim, presented  by Tulip.cm, the manufacturing app platform and associated with MFG.Works. That is M F g.works. The open learning community launched at the World Economic Forum. Each episode dives deep into a contemporary topic of concern across the industry and airs at 9:00 AM US Eastern every time every Wednesday. Augmented--the industry  4.0 podcas. In episode three of the podcast, the topic is re-imagining workforce training.

[00:01:05] Our guest is Sarah Boisvert, founder and CEO of Fab Lab and the nonprofit New collar Network. And this conversation, we talk about re-imagining workforce training industry 4.0. And what do you mean by new collar jobs? Fab labs. What skills are needed? How can they be taught? How can the credentials be recognized?

[00:01:30] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:01:30] What has the impact been and where do we go from here? Sarah? How are you doing today? I'm doing well. How are you?

[00:01:39] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:01:39] I'm I'm doing fine. I'm excited to talk about re-imagining workforce training, which seems to be, ,  an issue on your mind.  Sarah, you, you are a founder yourself. You have been actively involved in.

[00:01:50] Advanced manufacturing. I understand part of your story is that your company manufactured and sold the LASIK eye surgery , back in 1999. So you've been involved in manufacturing for, for awhile. We're here to talk about something very exciting.  you say new collar jobs is the big focus. I know you didn't invent the term.

[00:02:12] Can you give me a sense of what new collar jobs refers to? First of all,

[00:02:17] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:02:17] Sure. It is a term that was coined by Ginni Rometty, who is then the CEO of IBM. She's now the executive chair and it refers to blue color jobs that have now become digital. And so many of our jobs, if you just think about your UPS, man, who now everything's not.

[00:02:40] on paper, it's all in a handheld tool that he takes,  around on, on his deliveries and all jobs are becoming digital. And so I thought that Ginny's term encapsulated exactly what's happening and the technologies that we used to use just in manufacturing and now ubiquitous across industries.

[00:03:05] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:03:05] You have also been instrumental in the MIT spin out project called fab labs.

[00:03:11] Just give us a quick sense here. What our fab labs, not everybody is aware of this.

[00:03:17] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:03:17] Fab labs are,  workshops, , and studios that incorporate many different kinds of digital applications. So we are taking the ones and zeros, the bits of,  CAD designs and turning them into things that you can hold in your hand.

[00:03:37] And it covers topics like 3d printing and laser cutting and CNC machining, but as Neil Gershenfeld who founded, the international FabLab network likes to say the power of digital fabrication is social, not technical.

[00:03:55] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:03:55] You know, this brings to, to my brings me to my next question, what skills are needed.

[00:04:00] So when we, when we talk about new collar jobs and the skills and the workforce training, what exact skills is it that we need to now, , be more aware of? So you, you talked about some of them, I guess, you know, digital fabrication,  broadly is another, can you go a little bit more into what kind of skills you have been involved in training people for.

[00:04:22] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:04:22] Well, when I first started this project, I had always been interested  in workforce training, obviously because I had a manufacturing company and I needed to hire people. And we had worked with the community college , near our factory to develop a two year curriculum and,  for digital manufacturing, but I had in mind exactly what I needed for  my own in my own company and the kinds of skills that I was looking for.

[00:04:51] And so a lot of fab labs, because we have about 2000 fab labs around the world, heard about this. Program and started asking me, could you make a curriculum for us? And there were so many of them that I thought I need to come up with something that is going to fit most of the fab labs. And so I interviewed 200 manufacturers, ,  in all kinds of industries,  and from startups to fortune 10.

[00:05:18] And so,  companies like GE and Boeing and Apple and,  Ford, as well as, , companies in the medical device space, what they all told me they wanted was the number one skill they were looking for was problem solving and the number and, and even more important today because we're getting all these new technologies and you, haven't got some guy in the back of the machine shop who has done this before, and we're getting machines that are being built that have never been built before.

[00:05:55] And,  it's a whole new space. And the second thing they were looking for was hands-on skills. And I was particularly looking at operators and technicians. they were also looking for a technical skills, light,  CAD design AI, predictive analytics was probably the number one skill that the international, , manufacturers,  CEO's were looking for.

[00:06:19] And I got down and I thought, well, this is all the stuff we do in fab labs. This is exactly what we do. You know, we teach people how to, , critical problems. And, , so many of our labs, particularly in places like, Asia or Africa, where there was tremendous need and not enough. , resources   necessity is the mother of invention.

[00:06:51] And, so many of our fab labs invent amazing things to help their communities. And I thought, well, we don't need, a two year curriculum because the need for the employers was so extreme.  I thought we need something more. Like what we doing that labs?

[00:07:10] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:07:10] Hmm. And how can these skills be taught? What are the methodologies that you're using to teach these skills that aren't necessarily, you don't need to go to university as you pointed out to for them, but they have to be taught somehow.

[00:07:23] What, what, what are the methods you're using?

[00:07:27] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:07:27] I did a lot of research trying to nail that down. When I got done figuring out what it was, people needed in the factories. And, , it seemed like digital badges were the.  fastest, easiest, most affordable way , to get, to, , certify the ability of a Badger earner to,  work with a particular skillset.

[00:07:55] And, , they were developed by IBM and Mozilla  probably decades ago now, and, , are used by many organizations to verify skills and it's. It's a,  it's a credential that is portable and that you can, , , put on your, , digital resume and, , verify there was an underlying standard that you have to adhere to an international standards, body, , monitors that, and, , there is a certain level of,   , certainty that the person who says they have the skill actually has it.

[00:08:33] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:08:33] That's a good point because in this modern day and age, right, a lot of people can say that they have gone through some sort of training and it's hard to, to verify. So these things are also called micro certifications. How, how recent is this idea to certify a skill in that digital way?

[00:08:53] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:08:53] I think that these particular badges I have been around for four decades and people like Cisco and IBM and Autodesk have been using them for quite a long time, as well as many colleges including Michigan state is one that comes to mind that has a big program and they can be stacked into a credential or into a A higher level course.

[00:09:22] So, we stack our badges for example, into a master badge. And that combines a number of skills into something that allows someone to, to have a job. Description kind of certifications. So for example, our badges will combine into a master badge or an operator.

[00:09:43] And so it's not just someone who knows CAD, but they also, they know CAD. They know how to run a machine. They know how to troubleshoot a machine.

[00:09:53] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:09:53] So we touched a little bit on how these things can be taught, but is this a very practical type of teaching that you are engaged in? I mean, fab labs, so they are  physically present or was that kind of in the old pre COVID era?

[00:10:07] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:10:07] Well, yes, there you were typically. Physically present with COVID this past summer, I spent a lot of time piloting more online programs. And so for our design classes we can still have people online and our interns 3d print their designs, and then they can look at them via photography or a video, if it's a functional design and seeing how how the design needs to be iterated to the next step.

[00:10:41] Because as you know, it never comes out right the first time. It takes a number of iterations before it works. And we just recently this week actually completed an agreement with matter hackers who are a distributor of tabletop 3d printers to how to bundle their 3d printers with our badges.

[00:11:07] And so someone can then have a printer at home. And so if you have a family and you're trying to educate a number of children,  it's actually a pretty economical proposition. And they offer to printers that are under a thousand dollars for people who are for example, wanting to upskill and change careers.

[00:11:28]They also offer the Ultimaker 3d printer that we use pretty heavily in our lab. And it's a higher level. With added expense, but if you're looking at a career change, it's certainly cheaper than going back to college in the standard.

[00:11:48] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:11:48] So I'm curious about the impact. I know that you started out this endeavor interviewing some 200 us manufacturers to see that there was, I think you, you told me there was like a.

[00:11:58] The paradigm shift needed really to bring back a well-paying kind of engaging manufacturing careers back to middle-class Americans. And that that's again, I guess, pointing to this new, new collar workforce. What has the impact being, I mean, I'm sitting here and I see you have the book too, but you generously gave me this.

[00:12:15] So I've been browsing  some of the impact that some of the description of what you have been achieving over the past few years, what has the impact been? How many people have you been able to train and what happened to the people who were trained?

[00:12:30]Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:12:30] We've only been doing it a couple of years and in our pilot we probably have trained two, three, 400.

[00:12:40]People something on that order and it's been. A mix of people who come to us because we teach project-based learning. We can have classes that have varying levels of experience. So we have people who are PhDs from the Los Alamos national lab who drive the 45 minutes over  to us.

[00:13:05]And they're typically upskilling, they're typically engineers who went to school before 3d printing was in the curriculum and they are adding that to their existing work, but we get all kinds of , such a wide range of people from artists, we're an artist's colony here and we get toolers and sculptors and a wide range of people who have never done anything technical, but are looking to automate their processes.

[00:13:36]And so my necklace is a is the Taos Pueblo. And it was designed by a woman and her story is in the book. So I should add that the book you're referring to has augmented reality links to the stories of people. And she just was determined. She, I think has never graduated from high school and is an immigrant to the United States.

[00:14:08] And she just was determined to learn this. And she worked with us and now she designs in CAD and we 3d print the molds and her husband has the casting company. And then he has a cast in Sterling.

[00:14:25]Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:14:25] I find that fascinating, Sarah, because you, you said so that it goes from people who haven't completed high school to, to kind of not so recent PhDs, that is a fascinating range.

[00:14:35] And it brings, I guess, this idea of the difficulty level of, of contemporary technologies isn't necessarily what it was years ago. It's not like these technologies, take years to learn necessarily at the level where you can actually apply them  in your hobbies  or in the workplace. Why is that?

[00:14:54] Do you think, how have we gotten better at developing technologies or have a company has gotten better to tweak them or have you gotten faster at learning them or is the discrepancy like, this could be surprising for a lot of people that is not that hard. To take a course and apply it right afterwards.

[00:15:11] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:15:11] It's yeah. I mean , learning anything comes down to, are you interested? You know, it comes down to your level of motivation and determination. a couple of things, I think the programs, The technical programs and the machines have become much easier when I started in the laser business.

[00:15:31]Every time that I wanted to make a whole, I would have to redesign the optical train. And so I'd have to do all the math. So I'd have to do all the advanced math. I would have to Put it together on my bench and, and hopefully it worked and tweak it until I got the size hole I needed in the material I needed.

[00:15:50] And today there's autofocus. It's just like your camera. You press a button, you dial in the size hole you want and away you go. And it's interesting because many of the newer employees at our company, Potomac Photonix really don't have the technical understanding that I developed because they just press the button, but it moves much faster and we have more throughput we have a greater consistency. So the machines have definitely Improved tremendously  in recent years. But I also think that people are more used to dealing with technology.  , it's very rare to run into somebody who doesn't have email or somebody who, isn't surfing the web to find information.

[00:16:39]I think and for the young people, they were digital natives, so they don't even know what it's like not to have a digital option. I think that a number of things have come together to, to make that feasible.

[00:16:54] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:16:54] But Sarah, let me ask you then this hard question. I mean, it's a big promise to say that you can kind of save the middle class essentially.

[00:17:02] Is it that easy? Is it just taking one or two courses with this kind of fab lab type approach and  you're all set. I mean, can you literally take someone who feels, or maybe are laid off or feels at least not skilled really for the jobs they had, the jobs they want and you can really turn them into highly employable in a matter of one course, is that, has that really happened?

[00:17:26] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:17:26] In one course or one digital badge it is possible to get some jobs.  But it probably takes a, combination of courses in order to have the right skillset, because it's typically not one skill you need, it's typically a combination of skills. So to run the 3d printers, for example, you need CAD design.

[00:17:52] You need how to understand design for 3d printing, and then you have to understand how to run the machines and fix them when they break. So it's probably still a more focused and condensed process. So you could do our master batch, which comprises five or six badges and get a job in six months for about $2,000.

[00:18:20]With one class you could get a job part-time and continue the other badges and be paying for school while you're working in a field that is paying, a substantial. Increase over working at McDonald's.

[00:18:36] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:18:36] So give me a sense. So this is happening, you know, in your case in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where do we go from here?

[00:18:44] Is this going on anywhere else? What are the numbers? How many people are being trained this way? How many people could be trained this way? How easy is the approach you're taking to integrate and scale up? And is it happening spending anywhere else?

[00:18:57]Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:18:57] our A nonprofit, which is the organization that issues the badges has right now, I think 12 or 13 members.

[00:19:08] And they were part of our pilot and they are all over the country. So MIT Lemelson, .  The fab, in El Paso the Fab Lab in Tulsa, Makerspace, CT in Hartford, Connecticut. And so we have a group that just started this year was when I started the scaling. After we, after I was really pretty confident that it was going to work if it worked in Santa Fe, which is a small town.

[00:19:35] And in a very rural, very poor state. I really thought if I could make it work here, I, we could make it work anywhere. And because there were a lot of challenges in our state. So we started scaling this year and each of our pilot sites is probably putting through their first cohort of four, five or six badges.

[00:19:58] And they each have about 10 In that first cohort. We have a lot of requests for people to join our group and start issuing the badges. I've really come to see the success of our online program. And so our online program is instructor led at this point and I'm working to create a a self-directed program that people could do online with a tabletop printer at home.

[00:20:28]But we will still continue to scale the, the new collar network that actually disseminates the badges. And, I really see enormous interest. As you know, college enrollment has been declining for the last 10 years has been an 11% decline in college enrollment and people are looking for alternatives.

[00:20:52]And I think that I'd had requests from School systems. I had a request from a school system back East that has 45,000 students that they want to get badges. We have had a request from a school system in the Midwest where they get a lot of teachers who are getting 3d printers and they don't know what to do with them.

[00:21:14] And they'd like for us to train the teachers  so I really see A huge opportunity. And, these,  tools that we're using are not just being used in manufacturing, one of the people that we worked with on the HR side in research was Walmart and their big worry is now they're putting in these janitorial robots and their big dilemma is who's going to program them and who is going to fix the robots when they're not, when they're not working. , it's everywhere. It's, it's not just our, am I going to get a job at that manufacturing company? It's it's also your local retail store.

[00:22:03] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:22:03] Fantastic. This is very inspiring. I thank you so much for sharing this with us. And I hope that others are listening to this and either join a course like that, or get engaged in the fab lab type network and start training others. So thanks again for sharing that.

[00:22:20] Sarah Boisvert, Founder, Fab Lab Hub : [00:22:20] Oh, it's a pleasure. It's a real mission. I think.

[00:22:24] Trond Arne Undheim, host: [00:22:24] Sounds like it have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you.

[00:22:29] You have just listened to episode three of the augmented podcast with  Trond Arne Undheim. The topic was re-imagining workforce training. Our guest was Sarah Boisvert, founder, and CEO of Fab lab hub, and the nonprofit new collar network.

[00:22:47] In this conversation, we talked about re-imagining workforce training, industry 4.0. And what do you mean by new collar jobs and fab labs? What skills are needed? How can they be taught? How can the credentials be recognized? What has the impact been and where do we go from here? My takeaway is that re-imagining workforce training is more needed than ever before.

[00:23:15] The good news is that training new generations of workers might be simpler than it seems. Practical skills in robotics. 3d scanning digital fabrication, even AR/VR can be taught through experiential learning in weeks and months not in years. Micro certifications can be given out electronically and the impact on workers' lives can be profound.

[00:23:38] Thanks for listening. If you like the show subscribe at augmentedpodcast.co or in your preferred podcast player and rate us with five stars. Augmented. The industry 4.0 podcast.

Sarah Boisvert Profile Photo

Sarah Boisvert

Founder, FabLab Hub

Sarah Boisvert has over 30 years experience bridging the commercialization of high technology products and workforce training.

Ms. Boisvert is a co-founder of Potomac Photonics, Inc., an ultraviolet laser and machine tool manufacturer, where she served as CEO, with particular interest in creating internal workforce training programs and apprenticeships. Following the sale of the company in 1999, she turned her focus exclusively to workforce issues.

In 2010, Ms. Boisvert founded Fab Lab Hub, part of the Fab Lab Network based at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, to foster entrepreneurship and workforce training for New Collar job skills. Partially funded by Verizon, in 2016 Ms. Boisvert interviewed 200 companies ranging in size from startups to Fortune 10 multi-nationals from a wide variety of industries as to the digital skills needed for operators and technicians in manufacturing. The data resulting from her work is the basis of the book, The New Collar Workforce, published by Photonics Media Press.

In 2017, she opened fab labs at Santa Fe [NM] Community College [SFCC] and the Santa Fe [NM] Business Incubator, dedicated to workforce training and entrepreneurship. With funding from America Makes and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, her team is developing Digital Badges to certify skills for New Collar jobs including 3D Printing operator and robotics service technician. The badges are issued by the non-profit North American Digital Fabrication Alliance, a part of the MIT Fab Lab Network. The pilot was tested through the continuing education department at SFCC and is being launched in 2019 at 10 sites across North America.

Ms. Boisvert is a Fellow and Past President of the Laser Institute of America and has served on the Boards of numerous international technical societies. For fun, she 3D Prints jewelry.