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Festo Didactic opens high-tech training lab for manufacturing industry in N.J.

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An international firm completed a workforce education center in Eatontown – with the help of a Grow NJ grant – that's intended to mend massive shortfalls in training for high-tech manufacturing jobs.

Festo Didactic, which unveiled the new facility on Monday, already offers 3,500 courses per year in more than 26 languages across the globe in pursuit of that education goal. But the Hauppauge, New York-based firm’s Garden State base is a further step toward it.

This follows on the heels of the company’s June acquisition of the Farmingdale-based Lab-Volt. The decision to land in Eatontown came after Festo Didactic sought a new headquarters for its partner.

To that end, the Economic Development Authority approved a 10-year, $2.13 million award to Festo Didactic to remain in the Garden State instead of consolidating the headquarters back in Hauppauge.

The EDA, when it agreed to the grant in August, estimated a net benefit to the state of $18.6 million over 20 years and the creation of 36 new jobs in addition to the retention of 50 positions.

Tim Lizura, president and CEO of the EDA, was present for Monday’s ribbon-cutting event to commemorate the opening of the facility. He was understandably pleased with Festo Didactic’s commitment to the state.

“(This will) train the manufacturing workforce of the next generation right here in New Jersey,” Lizura said. “There’s 2 million jobs that go unfilled every year (due to) a lack of training in the manufacturing industry.

“Our efforts under the leadership of Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno have really been to rebuild New Jersey’s manufacturing base. Almost half of our awards under the Grow NJ program have been to manufacturers locating and expanding here.”

Nader Imani, CEO of Festo Didactic, further spoke to the problem of vacant positions in the manufacturing industry. Though processes on the shop floor have been largely automated, he said, there’s a void of workers qualified to repair that machinery.

What he believes it will take to overcome that is enhanced vocational training. On Monday, he spoke to partnering with local outlets such as the New Jersey Institute of Technology to accomplish that.

The Eatontown center will act as a hub for community colleges and other educational institutions. So, besides aiming to allow employers to have employees trained for sophisticated work, it will provide courses and seminars for students and teachers alike.

This has been a missing element in the U.S. manufacturing industry, according to Daniel Boese, general manager for Festo Didactic.

He said that in Germany, which is where the company originates, students are provided training based on the need of local manufacturers from a young age. Companies, in turn, provide apprenticeships to the students.

“Often, those who become CEOs in German manufacturing companies have come through (those programs), where a hands-on emphasis of the manufacturing process gives them a full understanding of all the facets of the production techniques and challenges of the facilities under their industry,” Boese said.

While Festo Didactic focuses on education, the larger company is known for the development of manufacturing equipment. The larger company has 300,000 customers of factory and process automation in more than 176 countries around the world. It also works with high-profile manufacturers such as Volkswagen or Siemens.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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