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MCALLEN, RGV – It is a measure of the esteem in which Festo holds South Texas College that the renowned German automation technology company asked Carlos Margo to be its special guest at Hannover Messe, the world’s leading trade fair for industrial technology.

Margo, STC’s associate dean for industry training and economic development, flew to Germany on Friday. He will not only attend the prestigious trade fair, at which President Obama will speak, but also visit Festo’s headquarters, an automobile manufacturing plant and educational institutions.

Carlos Margo
Carlos Margo

“It is really exciting to be visiting Germany. I am looking forward to visiting Festo’s HQ, visiting an auto plant and to attending the Hannover Fair,” Margo said, just before jetting out. “President Obama will be one of the opening speakers at the fair. I know Festo will be trying to have him visit the Festo exhibitions at the fair for a possible photo opportunity with those of us traveling from the U.S.”

In addition to Obama, other dignitaries slated to speak at Hannover Messe include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Siemens AG CEO Joe Kaeser, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

The Rio Grande Guardian obtained an exclusive interview with Margo at the STC technology campus in south McAllen during a break in a training session where engineering students from the Rio Grande Valley and Reynosa learned about industrial automation and robotics in general and Festo equipment in particular from Ted Rozier, engineering development manager for Festo Didactic Inc. Rozier was at STC for the day as part of the college’s professional seminar series, a series created through STC’s institute of advancement manufacturing.

“In the United States there is a deficit of 1.2 million in skilled workers in technology and engineering. So, because of supply and demand, these jobs pay well, really well. I have heard of starting salaries of $70,000 and upwards,” Margo said.

“Here at STC, we are trying to chip away at that deficit, one course at a time, one class at a time. What we are telling the students is, if you get the proper training in this field, industrial automation, you will have a good career, you will have a good job. We need to start thinking of this as a top career for students, industrial engineering.”

To secure a Festo certification, Margo said, students must complete 615 hours of training in 12 different modules, such as hydraulics, pneumatics, programmable logic controllers, robotics, etc. Margo said individual companies in the Valley are taking advantage of what STC is offering by sending workers to one or two of the classes. Also, one of the local school districts has connected with STC to see if its students can learn about robotics through Festo. STC became a Festo certified training center in April 2015. “It took a couple of million dollars and three years to develop program. We had to purchase special Festo equipment, lay out our lab in a certain way and hire two instructors,” Margo said.

Asked if students can get a job in industrial automation and robotics, once they have obtained their Festo certificate, Margo said; “If we have 200 students graduate with Festo certification I cannot guarantee them all a job here. But there will be high paying jobs in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, etc. The way the Valley is poised, with its growth and Reynosa’s growth, there is no reason manufacturing companies will not relocate here, once we have a pool of graduates in this specialized field. And, there is industrial automation in Reynosa and the wages there are very competitive with the U.S. A manufacturing engineer, with robotics certification, can earn a starting salary of $75,000 a year.”

Asked if there is support in the community for STC’s focus on industrial automation and robotics, Margo said: “Yes, and it starts with our president, Dr. Shirley Reed. She supports innovative programs. I remember when I first went to her and said, I want to spend several million dollars on equipment and training staff to become a Festo certified center and she looked at me as though I was a little off base. But, she supported us and trusted us. We also have the support of the board of trustees and the support of McAllen Economic Development Corporation. They understand the quality we are delivering. Other economic development corporations and chambers of commerce recognize what we are doing also. Festo is high quality and that is the way we like to do things at the college.”

Keith Patridge, president of McAllen EDC, praised STC for being the first Festo certified training center in the United States. “We have always worked with STC to address the current needs of our employers. But, we are always thinking about future needs. We recognized some years ago that the manufacturing industry was moving towards automation and robotics. STC having Festo means we are at the cutting edge, ahead of most companies and other regions in the nation. Festo is going to become more important in the U.S. In Europe it is really big.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows part of the Festo booth at the Hannover Messe trade fair in 2014. The slideshow images show students from the Rio Grande Valley and Reynosa learning about Festo at South Texas College’s technology campus in south McAllen.