Diversity & Inclusion
Makerspaces / Manufacturing / Municipal government / Robotics / Workplace culture

How to get people into high-paying jobs? This robotic arm could hold an answer

A South Philly makerspace is getting state funding to help people land specialized manufacturing jobs in six weeks.

Kelsey Conophy and Julian Diaz in the NYU-Poly DUMBO Incubator. Photo by Brady Dale Taken at the NYU Poly DUMBO Incubator Aug 30, 2013, by Brady Dale.

Technical.ly is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city's push toward economic justice. See all of the reporting at Broke in Philly.

With Philadelphia’s poverty rate stuck at a painful 25.7 percent — the highest percentage among the 10 largest U.S. cities — the city’s potential for growth hinges on doing more to get people into family-sustaining jobs, and doing it quickly.

Backed by a $150,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a six-week training program at makerspace NextFab could offer one pathway: teaching people how to control a robotic armed used in advanced manufacturing.

The program is called RERAMP, or Readiness for Employment in Robotics and Advanced Manufacturing Program. Participants will spend a month and a hal getting hands-on training from NextFab, including the fundamentals of controlling and operating a robotic arm called the “Kuka,” a 1,200-pound KR210 model that was a medical robot used to treat tumors in cancer patients in its past life.

Applicants to the program must be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED, and will work with instructors at the makerspace’s South Philly spot. Those interested can apply online by Dec. 1.


“Whether you are an enthusiastic student or someone new to making, we want our facilities to inspire and assist in the learning of new skills,” said Lisa DellaPorta, director of education at NextFab. “This program provides opportunities for those who might not normally have NextFab’s resources at their disposal.”

DellaPorta said scholarships will be granted on a first come, first served basis. For participants who want to pay their own way, the program cost will range between $300 and $700, depending on the specific classes they choose to take within the program. NextFab did not immediately say how many participants could end up receiving full scholarships.

“The grant funds are providing scholarships for participants in the training program, our development of an industrial robotics training facility, and development of new educational content in industrial robotics,” NextFab President Evan Malone said via email.

So what’s the Kuka arm used for? At advanced manufacturing hubs and workshops, robot arms like the Kuka let technicians create prototypes or artistic shapes with great precision. Operators are known as CNC machinists, an acronym that stands for Computer Numerical Control.

Do a quick search on job post site Indeed and you’ll find there are around 170 open jobs for CNC machinists or operators within an hour’s drive of Center City. Still, with total manufacturing jobs shrinking in the Philly area, will the trainees land the high-paying jobs needed to stem poverty?

DellaPorta said NextFab isn’t guaranteeing trainees a job at the end of the program; the makerspace says it will, however, work to connect participants with area manufacturers. Consultants and instructors will monitor participants’ progress to align with employer needs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for a CNC machinist in the Philly area is among the highest in the country: $65,200, or around $31 an hour, which more than quadruples the current minimum wage.

Companies: NextFab
Series: Philadelphia Journalism Collaborative

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