A 20-person delegation of Germans and Americans working in education and economic and workforce development visited Pellissippi State Community College and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville as part of the American Council on Germany’s initiative, “Transatlantic Cities of Tomorrow: Digitalization and the Future of Work.”
The project is a three-year exchange program in which leaders in small- and medium-sized cities in Germany and the U.S. work to develop solutions to common challenges resulting from digitalization and to identify innovative approaches to turning these challenges into opportunities for their local workforces and economies.
The delegation included educators, workforce development specialists, information technology experts and representatives from economic development organizations, business incubators and local governments from Knoxville, Nashville and Charlotte in the U.S. and Halle, Leipzig and Magdeburg in Germany. The delegation will complete a reciprocal visit to Germany in early November to examine German practices.
During its visits to Pellissippi State’s MegaLab and to TCAT Knoxville last month, the group learned about the key role that community and technical colleges play in providing students industry training. The group also visited the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility at the University of Tennessee and Local Motors. The Knoxville Chamber of Commerce briefed the delegation on the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley, the region’s economic development partnership.
The MegaLab at Pellissippi State’s Strawberry Plains Campus has 18,000 square feet of engineering and training space and supports specialized training in automated industrial systems, industrial maintenance, advanced manufacturing, computer science, sustainable technology, welding and more. UT’s Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility focuses on comprehensive research and development to prototyping of advanced fiber-reinforced plastics and composites.
“It was impressive to see how the schools tailor their training based on the needs of business and industry,” said Mandy Stobbe, one of the German participants from the Center for Social Research in Halle. “There is a flexibility and willingness to experiment and adapt that does not exist in Germany.”
Pellissippi MegaLab Director Andrew Polnicki and TCAT Knoxville Vice President Patrick Wade worked with the American Council on Germany to develop the Knoxville portion of the program. Both are members of the delegation.
Polnicki said the MegaLab session was focused on “Industry 4.0” – the use of automation and data exchange in creating “smart factories” where machines, systems and people communicate with each other to coordinate and monitor progress along assembly lines – and its impact on workforce training and development. The MegaLab hosted a roundtable exchange about what educators need to do to meet the needs of industries as they transition to a 4.0 manufacturing environment. It also included representatives from Knox County Schools, 4.0 specialists from local industry, and educators from Pellissippi.
“It felt like the hour and half session passed by in minutes. We could have talked for a couple more hours. In fact, after the delegation left for its next appointment, the core group and I continued discussions for another hour,” Polnicki said. “We have scheduled our next 4.0 group meeting to discuss curriculum and designing the modifications to Lab equipment.”