When Richland College in Texas received a $3.25 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in September 2014, the potential impact on local industry was evident.
The funds from this grant — along with multiple partnerships with employers in Dallas, Richardson and Garland — would equip Richland College with the tools and technology needed to train local veterans and others seeking to enter or re-enter the high-demand technology job market. In turn, local companies would receive qualified employees ready for immediate employment and trained on industry-recognized equipment.
Richland’s Technology, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing (TEAM) Center is a tangible result of the TAACCCT grants. The space is fully equipped with leading-edge, industry-quality technology that allows engineering and manufacturing students to have relevant, hands-on experience and career-focused training. It features an advanced manufacturing center, electronics engineering equipment, a robotics training lab and multiple classrooms for additional technology training.
It is in this innovative, technologically advanced place that the other tangible results of the grant have been taking shape as students prepare to enter the workforce. Cisco Iturbe, an electrical engineering technology student at Richland College and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is looking forward to graduating soon with one course remaining. His immediate goal is to get a job in the electrical engineering field, and he hopes eventually to own his own business.
After completing four years of active duty and two years in the reserves, Iturbe came to Richland because of the equipment he saw set up in the labs, which he felt allowed students the opportunity to learn in an industry-standard environment and gain vital hands-on experience. As a student, the variety of equipment available has also provided Iturbe — who is one of approximately 50 veterans now involved in the advanced manufacturing or electronics technology programs in the TEAM Center — the opportunity to enhance his electronics technology education with experience in other areas that may help him in the future, such hydraulics, manufacturing and robotics.
“For me, doing things hands-on is very important,” Iturbe said. “Once you get your hands on something, it makes a world of difference because if you’ve never touched it, you don’t know what it feels like or what it does. If you don’t know that, then how are you going to do anything with it?”
The “replication of the real experience” is an important component of the program, said Garth Clayton, Richland’s dean of resource development. “We have invested a great deal of our resources in offering different brands of the same equipment that people use in real life. And what happens is that [the students] learn to do everything here to walk into the job, able to work with whatever the employer provides. So they are hitting the ground running whenever they obtain one of our degrees or certificates.”
Prepared for the job
Advanced manufacturing student Monica Lee has watched the TEAM Center develop around her and become a thriving learning space.
“I was looking to do something with 3D modeling and design, things like AutoCAD and industrial design,” Lee said. “I came down and checked out the campus and was really impressed with what was available. Even though the lab wasn’t finished when I started, I got to see it come to fruition, and it’s just an amazing facility.”
To prepare Lee and other advanced manufacturing students, the program at Richland teaches them each step of the process, starting with designing a part on a computer that will later be manufactured. From there, students design how the machine will cut the part, and once that is complete, they simply walk down the hall to the lab and actually create what they designed, cutting the metal and setting up the machines themselves. Lee describes this start-to-finish education as hands-on support to what students learn in the classroom, which to her is key to understanding what goes into the technical requirements of manufacturing.
Lee will graduate in May with not only her class experience, but also on-the-job training through an internship obtained via Richland’s corporate partnership with Raytheon Precision Manufacturing, where she hopes to continue working.
While Iturbe and Lee are studying in different programs and have different goals, both of them, along with many other students, have benefited from the TAACCCT grant and Richland College’s TEAM Center.
“Cisco [Iturbe] is a great example of someone who likes our program and can see a future for himself in it, and Monica [Lee] is also an example of the way that our students are able to transition into the workforce very quickly and very easily,” Clayton said. “As part of this community, which includes a very vibrant advanced manufacturing and electronics technology group of corporations and shops, we are pleased to be able to support them in this way.”
List of accomplishments
As a direct result of the grant, Richland College’s accomplishments to date include:
• 14,500 square feet of renovated space
• $1.3 million worth of capital equipment and $400,000 worth of minor equipment, all installed and now operating since 2016
• three additional faculty members and three additional staff members hired
• two credit certificate and one continuing education certificate offerings added
• 37 Associate of Applied Science degrees and 39 certificates in electronics and manufacturing awarded
• 32 Associate of Applied Science degrees and 136 certificates in computer information technology awarded since that program’s inclusion in the grant
• 292 students enrolled in electronics and manufacturing programs and 464 students in computer information technology programs in the 2018 spring semester
• 277 passed NIMS credentials in eight different credential exams.
In addition, Richland has also completed a cognitive task analysis and received new courseware for wire EDM, another common manufacturing process.
Even though the grant has ended, Richland will continue to offer the curricula that were promised in the grant; offer credit for prior learning; add and replace additional equipment such as hydraulics, motor controls, modular assembly systems and programmable logic controllers; and will be adding new automation courses for aerospace, defense and communication needs.
Good for the community
A recent event at Richland College celebrated these accomplishments and the student success that came as a direct result of the TAACCCT grant funds. At the event, Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker spoke about the impact the grant had on the college, and as a direct result, the effect of those workforce-ready students entering the local job force, specifically in Richardson’s Telecom Corridor.
“I’m keenly aware of what you’re doing here and the value added,” Voelker told the crowd. “It’s so important today that our employers know that their talent is here, and if it’s not here, we can create it here, or we can reinvent it here because we are always constantly learning.”
“Coming full-circle and seeing the advanced manufacturing capabilities that we can do right here, not only in the USA, but in north Texas, is pretty cool,” he added. “We can compete with anybody in the world, at any level, because we have the talent and what it takes to make those businesses successful.”