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In my previous post, What Skills Are Required for “New-Collar Jobs” In Manufacturing?, I interviewed Sarah Boisvert, Founder of Fab Lab Hub  and author of The New Collar Workforce,  about the new types of skills that people will need for the increasingly technology-intensive “new collar” manufacturing jobs.

Fab Lab Hub is part of the International Fab Lab Network, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization created by the Center for Bits & Atoms at MIT. The Fab Lab Network is “an open, creative community of fabricators, artists, scientists, engineers, educators, students, amateurs, professionals, of all ages located in more than 78 countries in approximately 1,500 Fab Labs, which range from community-based labs to advanced research centers.” One of the goals of these Fab Labs is to foster entrepreneurship and workforce training in digital fabrication manufacturing skills.

Here’s my interview with Boisvert on how people can get, and obtain certification, in these “new collar” job skills.

Daniel Dern: How can people acquire and demonstrate their mastery of these new skills?

Sarah Boisvert: By learning these skills through courses that are associated with “Digital Badges.”

Daniel Dern: What are “Digital Badges”?

Sarah Boisvert: Digital Badges are a new type of “micro-credential” certification program, developed by a collaboration between IBM and Mozilla, that are perfect for verifying the skills attained for operators and technicians in the New Collar Workforce.

Fab Lab Hub creates digital badges for New Collar Jobs.

Currently, our Digital Badges include:

  • Design for 3D Printing
  • Fundamentals of SLA 3D Printing
  • Troubleshooting FDM 3D Printers
  • Laser Safety in Manufacturing
  • CNC Machining Principles
  • Designing & 3D Printing Props For The Film Industry

We can stack several badges into a Master Badge, demonstrating mastery for all the tools in a particular category. Master Badges so far include Master Operator, Master Badge for SLA (stereo lithography additive), and for FDM (fused deposition modeling) service technician. Those Master Badges are typically made of five to six badges.

Daniel Dern: Is Fab Lab Hubs the only organization offering Digital Badges?

Sarah Boisvert: As a quick web search will show, the OpenBadges platform is used by a number of organizations. This allows organizations to, using this secure platform, create their own digital badge programs.

Both commercial and non-profit companies have templates for groups to use, or an organization can directly program their badge offerings from the Open Badges protocols. Many colleges, like Colorado State University, and associations like AICPA (the American Institute of CPAs), are offering digital badges.  Similarly, companies like Adobe and AutoDesk are using Digital Badges to certify people in their software skills.

Daniel Dern: Are Digital Badges simply a credential like a paper certificate, or is there more to it?

Sarah Boisvert: Because employers told us they wanted employees with problem solving skills, Fab Lab Hub took advantage of how the back end of the system is organized, so a student not only gets a piece of paper showing “I have training in this,” but also lets them demonstrate their higher, deeper understanding of skills.

The database lets each student record their project, and lets a prospective employer see how they went through the process, how did they iterate, did they go ‘outside the box’ and think creatively. We can document their project and process with photos, video and workflow charts… the student can document however it makes sense for their project.

This information is important for anyone who is hiring. It means you aren’t just seeing a generic degree, you can see the person’s thought process and thinking skills.

Daniel Dern: Who are digital badges good for?

Sarah Boisvert: I don’t see these digital badge training programs as a replacement for two or four-year programs. But for many, it’s an addition to what they learned in their academic program. And they can be good for people where college isn’t the right path. We have employers sending us students with degrees who need a specific skill in new technology that wasn’t around when they did their academic training.

I’ve see huge transformation in students even after taking just one Digital Badge class.

Daniel Dern:  What’s involved – time and money – in getting digital badges? Can even two or three courses, or a semester or two, make a significant difference?

Sarah Boisvert: A badge typically takes four to eight weeks. The average is six weeks.

For example, a CNC badge for making film industry props and sets meets twice a week, plus people coming in to a lab space with the tools do their work. So earning a badge can be done part-time.

A single badge could be for operating an SLA (stereolithography apparatus) machine, or troubleshooting an FDM (fused deposition modeling) machine.

Each individual badge is around $250 fee plus the lab fee. Because we are nationwide, the lab fee is set by the local facility, but in general, it’s about $50.

For example, the Designing & Building Wood Furniture with CNC Machining Digital Badge  is $249.00 – plus the lab fee – and you earn a recognized Digital Badge that verifies your ability to design and build wood furniture.

Another example: “Operation of FDM 3D Printing Technology” at Santa Fe Community College, runs six weeks, with three hours of class every Wednesday evening

A master badge is typically 5-6 badges, so it would cost around $1,500 to $2,000. That is a very modest investment in your success.

You can probably do a master badge in six months. You could do some concurrently for a little faster and there is the option of extending the project portion of the work to accommodate student schedules. Now you can go get a job paying a minimum, $50,000+ per year starting, and more for some high demand skills – I know some CNC machinists starting at $100,000 per year.

Daniel Dern: How do employers learn about, or verify, what badges you have earned, or who has a particular badge?

Sarah Boisvert: Employers can search the North American Digital Fabrication Alliance database. This lets manufacturers and other employers find, and interact with, people who have the skills that the jobs need. We are also hoping that the platform could become a LinkedIn for the New Collar Workforce.

Daniel Dern: Any closing thoughts or advice?

Sarah Boisvert: We live in exciting times with our daily lives being transformed by new technologies.  Concurrently, our education offerings need to expand to include innovative ways that people can reap the benefits of the New Collar Jobs that are now available to everyone.

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