The Gentle Art of Asking Part Two

Quite by accident the second edition of “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling,” by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein appeared in my mail the other day. Reviewing some older notes, I saw the recommendation. When this book arrived, I discovered I had the first edition on my bookshelf. The second edition was worth the refresher.

Do you know any long-time elementary school teachers? Ever listen to them? Do their questions sound often like a prosecuting attorney going after a criminal suspect?

Do we catch ourselves asking questions to test other people? Or questions where we wish to discover if they are for us or against us? Questions meant to trap us—like often were posed to Jesus in the Christian Bible?

The gentle art of asking questions instead of telling people reveals true curiosity. We want to know what someone else is thinking—really.

The gentle art draws people in rather than establishing a barrier between people. Its foundation includes trust, sincerity, mindfulness. I would add intention. 

So often we ask, but then we fail to listen to the answer. Listening, that is, that involves our complete attention.

I wrote about this book five years ago. It’s one of those books that requires a reread periodically. It’s brief. Readable. New insights will pop out each reading.

Digital Portal Enhances Individualized Learning Experiences

How about another take on digital transformation? Festo has made a great investment in education through Festo Didactic. While remote, digital learning has had mixed results for elementary and high school students, this tool for continuing education for professionals proves itself a valuable adjunct to hands-on training.

The company points to trends such as mobile, micro, adaptive, and virtual reality learning. To further these and other trends, Festo Didactic developed a digital learning portal – the Festo Learning Experience, or Festo LX – to make it easier to create individual learning experiences for trainers and trainees.

The premise in launching the portal is that in today’s industrial world, the knowledge and skills acquired to launch one’s career will not be enough. New technologies will emerge, changing job requirements and challenging employees and managers to keep current.

Digital enables a variety of learning experiences that can tap into individual learning styles.

In creating Festo LX, Festo Didactic realized that different learning tools, vehicles, and methods are required. Festo LX focuses on the growing need for more individualized learning. It provides modular resources for various technical training professions that can be individually assembled into courses and entire learning paths. Varied formats, such as videos, animations, simulations, and text units, ensure participants remain engaged. Existing courses can be modified as desired. New content in text, image, or video format can be easily added and assigned to the learners. Available online, independent of time and place, Festo LX fits in with the habits of young learners, who are well versed with technology such as smartphones or tablets.

One way to address the trainees of today is micro learning, where small, self-contained portions of knowledge are taught. Festo LX learning units are very short with a clearly defined learning goal. They can be grasped quickly and assembled in modules, so trainers and educators can address each learner’s needs from different starting points. Using smartphones or tablets, lessons can be taught any time of day from anywhere. Virtual reality and augmented reality can be incorporated into lessons. With VR glasses, a learner dives into a virtual learning world. Augmented reality folds in information via a scanned QR code.

Trainees can be catapulted into future roles via VR. Digital formats complement in-person, hands-on learning. The latter remains essential.

Check out how it works here.

Festo Didactic Takes Its Apprenticeship Program to the Next Level

Festo has made significant investments in education and training over the past few years in Mason, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati. This news notes the next step.

Festo Didactic Learning Systems North America and its partners announced plans for the Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP) at its Regional Service Center (RSC) in Mason with industry, education, and government coming together.

And a word from a graduate.

“Festo’s side of the apprenticeship provided an affordable, unique, hands-on approach to learning mechatronics. This program taught me the very basics of electrical power up to advanced industrial troubleshooting,” said former Festo Didactic Apprentice, Kenneth Bibb. “I was able to gain more learning and experience with Festo than I would have in a traditional four-year university. Festo has set my life up perfectly by providing the skills I needed through the apprenticeship to begin a successful Mechatronics Engineering career.”

The award-winning mechatronics program has been a growing collaboration among Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, E-Beam, MQ Automation, Nestlé, Festo Didactic, and others. At its core, MAP supports manufacturers locally and nationally in training and retaining skilled workers. Heading into its sixth year, MAP will begin accepting apprenticeships on a rolling admission basis instead of a semester schedule. The program will consist of 57 weeks of training instead of five semesters. This transition will allow for more apprentices to enroll faster, train faster, and get to work faster.

My grandfather launched a solid career in manufacturing through an apprenticeship program in the early 1900s. Companies stopped doing that for a long time. I’m happy to see a rebirth.

Nationwide, apprenticeship continues to experience strong growth. On September 1, 2022 the White House launched the Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative—a national network of more than 200 employers and other organizations who signed on to create almost 500 hundred new registered apprenticeship programs. Through the new federal initiative, companies agreed to build new programs across a wide range of industries and to hire 10,000 new apprentices in the coming year. The Department of Labor also announced plans to invest over $330 million through grants to states, employers, labor organizations, and workforce intermediaries to expand and diversify Registered Apprenticeships.

According to, managed by the Department of Labor (DoL), 93% of apprentices who complete an apprenticeship retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000.

Ohio State Establishes Research Center for Advanced Manufacturing

Potential NSF investment of $52 million over 10 years funds convergent research, workforce development.

News about funding for an advanced manufacturing research center.

The Ohio State University will lead a multi-institutional engineering research center to develop and deploy revolutionary, intelligent autonomous manufacturing systems and educate a future manufacturing workforce. The center will create approaches central to next-generation manufacturing to create jobs, train a diverse workforce and ease supply chain issues by growing a new American industry.

The National Science Foundation announced funding for the Hybrid Autonomous Manufacturing, Moving from Evolution to Revolution (HAMMER) Engineering Research Center, for five years at $26 million with the ability to renew for another $26 million for an additional five years. If fully realized, it will be one of the largest research investments in the last decade for Ohio State.

Ohio State will partner with Case Western Reserve University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Northwestern University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville along with more than 70 industry, educational and technical organization collaborators to develop and implement new manufacturing technologies for agile, high-performance and high-quality components.

Glenn Daehn, the Mars G. Fontana Professor of Metallurgical Engineering, will serve as the director of the center.

Through basic, applied and translational research, HAMMER will accelerate the development and deployment of intelligent autonomous manufacturing systems that will use multiple processes to control material properties and component dimensions to allow rapid customization. These systems will learn from each operation, improving themselves over time.

In addition to the collaboration with the four partner universities, HAMMER will include convergent research across colleges at Ohio State. The College of Arts and Sciences, College of Medicine and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs join the College of Engineering in supporting the new engineering research center.

The NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) program supports convergent research, education and technology translation at U.S. universities to lead to strong societal impacts.

Each ERC has interacting foundational components that go beyond the research project, including engineering workforce development at all stages, a culture of diversity and inclusion where all participants gain mutual benefit and value creation within an innovation ecosystem that will outlast the lifetime of the ERC.

Since the program’s start in 1985, NSF has funded 75 ERCs throughout the United States. NSF supports each center for up to 10 years. This investment has led to many successes, including:

  • More than 240 spinoff companies
  • More than 900 patents
  • More than 14,400 total bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to ERC students
  • Numerous research outcomes enabling new technologies

NI Corporate Impact Report

The first NI Week in Austin, TX I attended was 1998. I hit every year until maybe 2015. The clear vision of leadership around building a company with solid ethics and focus on having a positive impact on the world impressed me from the very beginning.

The company has grown from that startup scrappiness I first witnessed to the corporation it is today, yet the vision persists through the third generation of leaders.

Recently I interviewed Tabitha Upshaw, senior director of Brand, Reputation and Impact to learn more about the results reported in the 2021 Corporate Impact report just announced about a month ago. She emphasized the Three Pillars of the program: Changing the Faces of Engineering, Building an Equitable and Thriving Society, and Engineering a Healthy Planet. These were created to reflect where the company can have the greatest influence and impact as a test and measurement engineering leader.

Some of the results noted in the report include:

  • The launch of a rigorous grant-making process with $2.7 million in grants to nine nonprofit partners who are advancing diversity in STEM education, including the Girls in Engineering and Technology program in Malaysia and the Women at Tech program in Hungary.
  • Improved equity in base pay across NI, with ratios of 99% for women to men (global), 101% for people of color to white (U.S.), 100% for Black to white (U.S.) and 101% for Latinx to white (U.S.).
  • 35.5% of electricity sourced from renewables, plus 113,542 square feet of new buildings and remodels designed to LEED/WELL standards.

A particular point of pride according to Upshaw came from tracking pay equity goals and reporting that the company was beating these goals handily.

The company has placed dollars, executive time, and other emphases on STEM education at all levels of schooling as long as I’ve known it.

The report also puts forth a new goal: By 2030, NI will become a climate-neutral company with an ongoing commitment to protecting biodiversity. The company’s ambition is to operate in a way that produces no net greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1 and 2).

“We are living through a period of rapid evolution. We see it with our customers who are accelerating the digital transformation of our world, and we see it in our society and across our planet,” said Eric Starkloff, CEO of NI. “Our 2030 Corporate Impact Strategy reflects our desire to be a driver of positive change.”

One of NI’s key drivers of positive transformation in 2021 was its announcement of $2.7 million in grants to STEM education initiatives that advance diversity in STEM education globally. The company formed nine new partnerships with nonprofits to bring hands-on programs and mentoring to girls and women, people of color and economically disadvantaged populations.

“We’ve had to put in extra effort to keep Corporate Impact top of mind in the face of macro challenges such as the pandemic, supply chain disruption, and our transformation as a company,” concluded Upshaw. “And I’m so proud of what we’ve worked together across the company to achieve this year.”

Bionics and Robotics Training For Youth

Festo branches into many interesting endeavors. I’ve visited the company’s headquarters, a few customers including an Audi plant in Hungary, and the Cincinnati, Ohio area training facility. This news touches on a hot topic crucial to manufacturing success–training and education. Festo Didactic develops training courses and conducts classes. Here are two pieces of news. One from Ohio regarding a pre-apprenticeship program in a couple of schools. The second from Wisconsin concerning an award.

Warren County and Clermont County Schools Kickoff Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship Program

Students from Kings High School and Goshen High School get on-the-job training in advanced manufacturing from Festo Didactic, made possible by funding from Easterseals and the State. A group of 14 high school seniors in southwestern Ohio have become the first beneficiaries of a workforce development grant to fund a newly formed pre-apprenticeship program focused on modern day manufacturing.

The grant was awarded to Easterseals, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit organization focused on improving workforce equity, inclusion and access. 

Kings High School in Warren County and Goshen High School in Clermont County are the first high schools in the state to participate in the pre-apprenticeship program in collaboration with Festo Didactic, a global leader in industrial and technical education.

“The Area 12 HUB (Butler, Clermont, Warren counties and Easterseals) partnered with Festo because they have an exceptional model for their manufacturing pre-apprenticeship program,” said Jessica Dean, Manager, Youth Services Community Operations at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati. “In this program, there’s a strong commitment to help youth become successful. For students to have access to high quality STEM education and hands-on training like this, it opens up a world of possibilities.”

According to, by definition, pre-apprenticeship is a program or set of strategies designed to prepare individuals to enter and succeed in a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP). Pre-apprenticeship programs help employers save time and money by providing pre-screened, ready-to-work employees who have been trained in the specific skills employers need. U.S. Department of Labor case studies have shown that pre-apprenticeship programs can attract more diverse candidates, including women and people of color, and increase employment of disabled workers.

Specifically, Festo’s pre-apprenticeship is designed to introduce students to modern day smart manufacturing. The program prioritizes hands-on, experiential learning that exposes students to the wonders of bionics and robotics in addition to beginner-level engineering concepts in pneumatics and mechatronics. Pre-apprentices receive a comprehensive learning experience in the classroom with textbook and hybrid learning, then head off to the lab to apply their knowledge hands-on with IoT hardware and software systems. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a certificate of completion.

Classes are held at Festo’s Regional Service Center (RSC), a 47-acre state-of-the-art logistics and manufacturing plant that provides automation technology serving all of North America. The plant opened in 2015 and is among the 15 largest employers in Mason.

The RSC also serves as the home base for Festo’s award-winning Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program (MAP2) which first launched at the Festo Learning Center in 2016. In 2020, MAP2 earned the Best in Ohio Business Award in the Workforce Development Program category.

KTEC to Honor Festo Didactic as the 2022 Distinguish Partner

Festo Didatic is scheduled to be presented with KTEC’s 2022 Distinguished Partner Award at the annual KTEC Gala on Saturday, March 26, for the company’s dedication to education and support of KTEC.

The mission of Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum (KTEC) is to engage learners of all types in an innovative and continually evolving learning environment, to prepare students for success through academic excellence by the use of 21st Century Skills, strategic partnerships, and technology integration to prepare for a global society.

The company is an important part of innovation for KTEC students. Festo and the school are working together to integrate bionics and mechatronics into the school’s STEM learning program for 6th–8th grade students.

Festo is also an important part of the design team for KTEC High School, which is slated to open this September. Festo is facilitating the development of the Automation and Robotics career pathway.

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