Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By FRANK TUTALO
LOWELL- Three months ago, when Brooks Automation Inc. needed to train 15 computer programers as quickly as possible, it turned to a somewhat unlikely, yet logical, source.
Gearing up to transition to a more efficient computer program, Chelmsford-based Brooks had no qualified personnel to teach the initiative. So, it found help from the University of Massachusetts Lowell's corporate education department.
Brooks approached the university, and was able to help craft the focus and schedule of the course. Ten weeks and 30 class hours later, software control engineers and technical support personnel from the company had learned something new.
'We're finding that a lot of companies want customized skill sets and they need it right away,' said Catherine Kendrick, director of corporate and distance market development for UMass Lowell's corporate education department.
Brooks, which uses C programing to develop its embedded software, needed to switch to the C++ version, an object-oriented language.
'You always have to improve your talent,' said Hakan Elmali, director of embedded controls at Brooks, who coordinated the training. 'If you stay stagnant, you won't be competitive in the marketplace. And it shows our group that we value them, too.'
Several area companies are thinking the same way. In fact, over the past year, 23 businesses have been involved with UMass Lowell in some type of custom-classroom training, whether it's credit or non-credit courses.
For example, Siemens AG, which recently opened a Chelmsford office on Mill Road, will start a course for its employees in coming weeks. In the past, Hewlett-Packard and Dell have also participated. Two years ago, 18 companies appealed to the university, Kendrick explained.
'It's really about saving yourself from reinventing the wheel over and over,' said Bill Moloney, a professor of computer science at U Mass Lowell who taught the Brooks course.
Moloney, whose classes have ranged from an intense two-day seminars to the more manageable 10-week sessions, noted that Juniper Networks, and what was once called Unisphere, have sent employees to past classes. A few times, he has even taught via video link to students in Boca Raton, Fla.
Elmali said the C++ class cost approximately $1,000 per student. But UMass Lowell officials note that costs vary greatly depending on content or focus. If a company needs the professor to teach at their corporate location, it pays for travel costs as well, Kendrick explained.
In fact, professors have traveled as far as Singapore and Spain to teach recently.
The university has always been involved with corporate outreach, dating back to its founding some 120 years ago as a proprietary textile school, Lowell Technological Institute. Within the last five years, though, there has been more of a focus on regional economic development, Kendrick explained.
'The important thing is to really help these companies with their work-force development,' she added.
Brooks, which will transition to the more user-friendly program gradually over the coming months, hopes to achieve increased efficiency, with a more skilled work force.
'We had been using C for a long time,' said Elmali, who noted the course lived up to its expectations. 'I think C++ really is a superior language, so that's why we're moving towards it. This should improve our efficiency, and I think C++ is the tool that will get us there.'