Lehigh Carbon Community College Partners with Amazon on Robotics Training

LCCC is one of four schools nationwide chosen by Amazon.com Inc. to offer free training for employees wanting to expand their careers, or prospective workers who want a highly skilled, high-paying and in-demand job.

It’s bringing people from across the nation to the North Whitehall Township campus for training in technology that might never be as important as now, as demand has surged for e-commerce goods and services since the coronavirus outbreak.

Amazon and LCCC started the company’s Mechatronics and Robotics Apprenticeship in June, said Don Worman, who directs the program for the school. By early December, the school had trained 98 students in how to maintain and repair the machinery that enables Amazon to process the goods that come and go from its fulfillment centers.

Forty students began Jan. 4, with the school taking on 20 more enrollees every three weeks, Worman said. The plan is to have 320 students pass through the 12-week training program this year. After the training, participants work under one-year, paid apprenticeships with the company, he said.

“It’s very unique and we’re very happy to be part of the program,” said Worman, who is also the school’s director of manufacturing technology. “We think it’s a really good thing that Amazon is doing not only for the individuals but the business and the community.”

Bob O’Donnell, a tech industry analyst in northern California who consults with Amazon, said reskilling employees of big technology companies should grow in importance, given the evolving economy since the coronavirus outbreak.

“The training they provide, as they explained it to me, was learning a specialized trade,” O’Donnell said of Amazon. “But it gives people who were hauling boxes in warehouses more opportunity for growth.”

Worman said LCCC has trained local students for Amazon jobs, but it’s the first time the school and company have collaborated in a manner that is recruiting out-of-area students to the community college.

“This is the first time we’ve had them as a corporate partner,” he said.

“The uniqueness is the numbers,” Worman said, “the big numbers of enrollment and the diversity. And for the most part, they are coming from coast to coast.”

Those students, he said, live in a nearby hotel during the in-school training, he said.

Victor Daniel of Philadelphia, who joined Amazon in August 2019 as a warehouse worker, sought out the Amazon program and spent time at LCCC and the hotel.

The 52-year-old Daniel said he was laid off one year earlier while working in information technology at a data center, where he was employed for 17 years.

“The schedule was intense … they basically crammed like I would say a good two semesters’ worth of classes into that one session,” Daniel said. “And you had to stay on top of it, on top of the reading, assignments, all of that. You couldn’t afford to slack off too much.

“I mean this is not for the lazy,” he said.

But Daniel said the opportunity to study and train while getting paid has been beneficial.

“This program has been great for me,” he said.

Kent Hollenbeck, an Amazon spokesperson, said Amazon launched the mechatronics program at Vincennes University in Indiana and has expanded to two schools besides LCCC, in North Carolina and Texas.

He said the program is part of Amazon’s larger Upskilling 2025 initiative, a $700 million investment to provide free skills training to 100,000 Amazon employees nationwide in the next five years to help them transition into in-demand, higher-paying jobs.

From the starting minimum wage of $15 an hour, an employee’s pay could jump up to 40% more after completing the courses and one-year apprenticeship, Hollenbeck said. Some workers who get selected for further training could see their wages jump another 48%, he said.

Amazon operates two fulfillment centers in Breinigsville in Upper Macungie Township and one in Palmer Township. It employs about 3,000 full-time workers in the Lehigh Valley, where it has become one of the area’s largest employers.

Worman said Amazon approached LCCC based on its track record of teaching robotics and mechatronics, which is a merger of electrical, mechanical and automation technologies.

“If you go to Mack Trucks, for instance, they have electrical technicians, mechanical technicians and automation technicians,” Worman said. “What’s become more popular is the blending of all three under the title mechatronics.”

Amazon employees or interested applicants can get information about the mechatronics program at amazon.jobs/en. Or, go to lccc.edu and search Amazon.

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