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News / Business / Clark County Business

Ridgefield high-tech training center IT3 aims to develop workforce for local manufacturers

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 1, 2023, 6:05am
2 Photos
IT3, a new nonprofit workforce training center, is aiming to quickly train those in manufacturing on the newest technologies used in the industry. The fabrication center space shown here is shared with Ridgefield School District.
IT3, a new nonprofit workforce training center, is aiming to quickly train those in manufacturing on the newest technologies used in the industry. The fabrication center space shown here is shared with Ridgefield School District. (Photo contributed by Siemens USA) Photo Gallery

An effort to home-grow a larger high-tech manufacturing workforce has set down roots in Ridgefield. The IT3 workforce development center celebrated its grand opening last week.

IT3 is a nonprofit innovation center rooted in public and private partnerships. The goal: develop talent and accelerate technology transfer.

The center is based on practices from other such centers around the country and in Europe. Though, Kevin Witte, IT3’s chief executive, said this center would have a Northwest flavor.

Local businesses and public entities have supported this concept with the private sector’s need for short-term trainings on specific technologies and skills.

The center has been initially financed by the Economic Development Administration, the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Port of Ridgefield, the Legislature and the Siemens Corporation.

“We’re looking at trying to stimulate public-private partnerships that help with education around workforce and help companies or organizations get exposure to technology,” said Witte.

Large companies like Siemens have curriculum plans developed and plans in place to keep their in-house teachers up to date on technology. But even they see a benefit in IT3 as one of its private supporters.

“We’re at a point in time where the technology shifts faster today than it ever has in history,” said Brian Taylor, semiconductor business development lead for Siemens. “We have to try to keep the teachers evergreen on their technology, which means they have to have … technical support.”

The teachers need to be able to relearn, retrain and reskill themselves. So Siemens is making investments in the Pacific Northwest to build more of that here.

Taylor’s job isn’t in academica or workforce development. His focus at Siemens is growing the high-tech and semiconductor industry.

“What I’m trying to do is satisfy a need from our customers,” said Taylor.

The world of manufacturing doesn’t look like it did decades ago. Technology exists not just in the high-tech fields. It’s also become prevalent with the rise of automation.

“If you’re a small or medium business, it’s really hard to figure out how to automate because you probably don’t have the bench strength in house,” said Witte.

IT3’s trainings, which will primarily be for companies at first, can be as short as half a day or as long as a month. And they can be stackable. But, Witte said, the trainings aren’t meant to replace degrees or two-year colleges.

“Over half of our workforce globally needs retraining, but most of the retraining they need is only a week to four weeks,” said Witte.

“In order for us to be competitive in Southwest Washington or be competitive in Washington state or the region as a whole … we need to have a talent pool that’s here,” said Taylor.

The region is competing for investment on not just a local scale but also a national and global one.

Washington’s companies are importing people from outside the state and even outside the country to fill their technology jobs.

“We have a deficit in homegrown folks to fill these roles,” Taylor said.

“There’s an opportunity here for us to continue to build out to be competitive,” he added.

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