Stacy Yonnone remembers working on cars with her father in the family garage, a radio nearby belting out tunes from a local rock station. World-renowned heavy metal band Metallica was on constant rotation back then, melting listeners’ minds with tunes such as “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.”
Today, Yonnone is working with a different kind of heavy metal as a machinist apprentice for Bantam Tools in Peekskill, New York. The career opportunity transpired due to a collaboration between SUNY Westchester Community College and Metallica’s All Within My Hands (AWMH) foundation.
This excerpt comes from the current issue of the Community College Journal, published by the American Association of Community Colleges since 1930.
The foundation funds the Metallica Scholars Initiative, designed for students like Yonnone with an interest in career and technical education. Yonnone, 21, discovered the program through her job, jumping at a chance to upgrade her practical knowledge in the industry.
“I heard about the program from my bosses,” says Yonnone. “I got involved because I wanted to learn more about the trade. I saw it as an opportunity to step up my game and become more valuable to my company.”
In 2019, AWMH — alongside initiative sponsor the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) — provided 10 schools with $100,000 each for tuition help, safety gear and learning materials. Since inception, the program has graduated 80% to 90% of participants, with 95% of Metallica scholars finding jobs directly related to their studies.
Westchester received $50,000 in 2021 — the institution’s second year in the program — focusing mostly on training workers for the region’s growing advanced manufacturing sector. The college, which serves 31,000 full- and part-time learners in New York state, has further harnessed grants for cybersecurity and jobs around healthcare, namely nursing assistants, phlebotomists and EKG technicians.
“The program is driven by the workforce needs of the community,” says Teresita Wisell, vice president of workforce development and community education at Westchester. “Starting with the president down to faculty, we are aligned with our city’s office of economic development.”
The initiative is now in its third year of rocking the workforce at Westchester. In 2021, about 30 Metallica scholars garnered manufacturing and metalworking skill certifications for direct employment in various middle-skill positions.
During the grant’s first year in 2020, more than 250 students received training and professional certifications that increased their employability. Wisell points to custodians at manufacturing companies who transitioned to assembly line positions after taking grant-sponsored programming. These students are powering a regional economic engine that will only continue to expand, she says.
“Skilled trades offer individuals significant entry points to well-paying jobs that can then lead to fulfilling careers,” Wisell says. “And you can’t tell someone about this project without a huge smile coming across your face. The brand has other funders perking up and saying they want in on this, too.”
In a statement championing the Westchester award, AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus said the program can usher a steady pipeline of much-needed talent into area industries.
“It’s a win-win for our students and the local economy,” says Bumphus. “For Metallica to continue to invest in these students and communities is a testament to the workforce education that community colleges provide.”
Expanding at the right time
The Scholars program invested $1.8 million in its fourth year to add another 10 colleges to the roster. This year, Metallica grants are expected to reach 2,000 students in 32 community colleges across 27 states.
Expansion comes as communities nationwide contend with a tight labor market spurred by changes in worker sentiment post-Covid. Even as unemployment numbers hover at 3.7% nationally, per August 2022 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, entities like Washington’s Spokane Community College (SCC) are using the strategy as a skill enhancer and service provider for would-be tradespeople.
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SCC is an early program adopter that is getting $25,000 this go-round to spotlight workforce education and support the next generation of highly sought employees. Curricula funded by the grant encompasses manufacturing, health sciences and computer information programming, a trio of demand areas accelerated by the pandemic, notes SCC President Kevin Brockbank.
Combined with a Covid-driven drop in enrollment, the regional worker deficit motivated SCC to tap into a grant program with an undeniably fun hook.
“We have a billboard in front of campus with Metallica’s logo – that is going to be recognized by anyone who listen to music,” says Brockbank, himself a veteran of five of the band’s concerts. “It draws people in for sure. There’s a value proposition in the name recognition for students looking for funding sources and wondering what the scholarship is all about. It’s a brand that turns heads, no doubt about it.”
SCC has integrated funding into 19 different programs, ranging from welding to machining to dental assistance and software development. Although successful participants are placed in entry-level jobs, these are career-oriented positions in viable growth industries.
“Our goal here is not just getting people into the job search cycle, but a livable career,” Brockbank says. “When you go into a doctor’s office, you talk to five people before getting to the doctor. Those are SCC graduates. The mechanics fixing your car are SCC graduates, too. We’re building the foundation of the workforce.”