Training that evolves with workplace needs

Front Range Community College's Center for Integrated Manufacturing provides cutting-edge technology to train for high-tech manufacturing jobs. (Photo: FRCC)

As dean of business and industry at Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tennessee, Terri Messer has worked for many years to provide specialized training to students who want to work for local companies. And she keeps a close eye out for potential opportunities.  

Jackson State’s Advanced Maintenance Technician Co-op evolved as an industry education program, Messer said. It was modeled after a program in Kentucky, where a Toyota plant partnered with Bluegrass Community and Technical College and then hired all of the college’s co-op students after they graduated. Toyota had a similar partnership with community colleges around the country.

The Toyota plant near Jackson State, which builds engine blocks, is not a manufacturing facility. So Messer had to look for other industry partners.

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series that explores the role of community colleges in attracting manufacturers into communities as well as continuing to serve the workforce needs of those already there. Read the first article.

She created an advisory committee for the college’s engineering technologies program. Students attend classes two days a week and work at one of the program’s industry partners the other three days. The program gradually grew from four manufacturers to 28.

The co-op is a way “to keep up with technology changes in the real world,” Messer said. “A lot of students needed experience being in that environment.” And they can make money and use their skills while they’re studying.

FAME’s focus on professional skills

The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, took over the Toyota program in early 2020. The program, called the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME), works with community colleges on an apprenticeship-style program like the one at Jackson State, said Gardner Carrick, vice president of workforce solutions for the Manufacturing Institute.

What makes it different from other workforce training programs, Carrick said, is that “Toyota had intentionally designed it to teach more than technical skills. Students have a deep understanding of professional skills and behavior, and immersion in lean manufacturing.”

By professional skills, Carrick means points like on-time attendance and presentation skills. Students give a presentation every day on a safety topic. They learn about the importance of speaking clearly, looking the audience in the eye and dressing professionally.

The manufacturers that work with Jackson State’s co-op indicate they need workers with both technical and professional skills, said Cathi Roberts, completion coordinator for the program. 

Co-op students earn $15 an hour for three eight-hour shifts per week. When they graduate, they make $17 an hour. It’s not unusual for graduates to earn $75,000 a year after a couple of years on the job, Roberts said. That’s good money in a state where the median household income is $41,000.

An expectation to deliver

Last September, Ford and SK Innovation announced that they would invest $5.6 billion to build a new campus in west Tennessee, Blue Oval City, to produce electric F-Series trucks and batteries. The mega-campus will create 5,800 new jobs.

“[Ford] expects Tennessee to deliver” on workforce training, Messer said. The state’s emphasis on technical education was one reason why the company chose to locate in Tennessee. She has started talking with Ford about its training needs but said the talks are still confidential.

Jackson State is 40 miles from the planned Blue Oval City. A new Tennessee College of Applied Technology will be built on the Blue Oval City campus. With nearly 6,000 new jobs in the offing, there should be plenty of training opportunities for community colleges and technical colleges across west Tennessee. 

Expanded conversations

Front Range Community College’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) provides an on-the-ground look at what one community college offers in its advanced manufacturing program.

The Colorado college opened the center in fall 2019, said Deborah Craven, dean of instruction at the Boulder County campus. Before that, Front Range had an advanced technology center that started with a machining program.

To create the center, the college had a huge fundraising campaign, Craven said. When college representatives met with industry partners in focus groups, the manufacturers would describe what they needed. In return, the college asked for, and received, financial support.

Students tour Front Range Community College’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing. (Photo: FRCC)

Front Range also received a 2013 federal grant through CHAMP (Colorado Helps Advanced Manufacturing Program), which helped start the machining program. As area employers took note of the program, that led to more conversations with companies.

“They talked about the types of jobs available and the types of people they were looking to fill them,” Craven said. “The industry was aging out of expertise with people retiring. We were focusing on filling that need.

“We were aiming to provide a midlevel worker rather than [companies] having to hire people coming in off the street needing more training,” she said.

The center now has four programs: automation and engineering technology; electronics engineering technology; precision machining; and optics technology.

Industry advisory boards review the center’s programs and may suggest a change in focus or a new class. For example, the machining program focused on quality control jobs, but industry reps said they wanted more students and graduates making machine parts, Craven said.

Affordable and effective

In Clifton Forge, Virginia, a rural area near Roanoke, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College’s workforce training program got a boost from a state program, Fast Forward. Created in 2016, the program is “the governor’s initiative to get more skilled individuals in a shorter period of time,” said John Rainone, president of the college.

Working with community colleges across Virginia, the state provides funding for short-term training for in-demand careers. For example, Dabney Lancaster’s advanced manufacturing class is $1,200, but the student pays only one-third of that. The college also offers financial aid, so a student could pay as little as $40, Rainone said.

Related article: At rural colleges, workforce development on a budget

For commercial driver’s license (CDL) training, a student pays one-third of the cost of a class (potentially with help from financial aid). The state pays the second third. Once the student passes the CDL driver’s test, the college can access the final third.

“We’re producing CDL drivers to local companies,” Rainone said. “They’d be desperate otherwise.”

Three years ago, Schaefer Rolls Co. built a factory in nearby Covington, hiring 35 employees. Dabney Lancaster worked with the workforce development board and state employment commission to provide job applicants, and the college provided training.

The college has long provided training in welding and machining for nearby WestRock paper mill and was ready when the mill expanded its operation two years ago.

“We are their primary training partner,” Rainone said.

About the Author

Joan Mooney
Joan Mooney, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland, has written for Community College Daily since 2020.