Sep 21, 2012

Training grant

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded Central Lakes College  and three institutional partners a $13.1 million grant to expand educational opportunity in advanced manufacturing. CLC, a community and technical college in Brainerd and Staples, is the consortium leader. The three-year grant award, announced Wednesday by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, will enable CLC, St. Cloud Technical and Community College (SCTCC), Pine Technical College (PTC), and the 360 Degree Center of Excellence at Bemidji State University to train workers for high-wage, high-skill jobs. “We are excited about the opportunity to better serve the manufacturing sector of the state’s economy with this grant,” said Dr. Larry Lundblad, president of CLC. “The most economically distressed rural regions will benefit the most.” The $13,100,920 awarded to the consortium will be divided as follows: CLC -- $3,748,561; SCTCC -- $3,953,961; PTC -- $3,209,312; 360 Center -- $2,189,086. Jeff Wig (shown), CLC dean of career and technical programs and Staples campus, worked for months with many partners in pursuit of the grant.

Consortium members have been working to expand the educated labor pool in direct response to local manufacturing employer needs, with a recent emphasis evolving in the advanced manufacturing arena. The emphasis is on metals manufacturing, plastics and composites, automation technology, and rapid prototyping.

“Manufacturers are telling our colleges that they have many high-paying jobs available, but that few applicants have the advanced manufacturing training needed to be successful in these jobs,” said Jeff .  “This grant should go a long way toward closing this skills gap.” 

The Regional Advanced Manufacturing Retraining (RAMR) program created by the grant aims to counter the loss of jobs that have often moved overseas. More than 8,700 manufacturing workers in Minnesota have either lost their jobs due to foreign trade or are under constant danger of job loss since January 1, 2007.

Officials predict RAMR will result in a pool of more than 3,900 high-skilled technicians ready to work throughout Minnesota and two counties in Wisconsin.

Program highlights:

        Re-engineering the relationship between introductory manufacturing courses, Adult Basic Education (ABE) and college developmental education to improve student retention and success.

        Providing intensive student services to assist students to overcome their barriers to success.

        Expanding access to introductory courses by building on and enhancing existing online courses in basic manufacturing skills pioneered by the 360° Center.

        Adding important new advanced manufacturing disciplines in plastics technology, automation and rapid prototyping.

Jeff said the program aims to build a stronger “on” ramp for people who want advanced manufacturing jobs but may need help in reading, math or basic computer skills before they can be successful.  “The grant will allow us to fund targeted Adult Basic Education services in these areas, as well as outreach coordinators and case managers who can help students overcome barriers that might have kept them from succeeding,” he said. 

“One huge barrier our colleges face when starting a new program in manufacturing is the high cost of new equipment,” Jeff said. “The grant includes approximately $3.1 million in cutting-edge manufacturing equipment for these areas.”

            SCTCC will create eight faculty and staff positions (two instructors) and obtain more than $850,000 in equipment for campus and nearly $500,000 in mediated telepresence equipment placed in partner companies.

            “We will be adding a program of instruction in Plastics Technology, expanding our programming in Prototypye/Reverse Engineering, and growing more opportunities in Automation and Robotics,” said Bruce Peterson, dean of trades and industry at SCTCC. “This grant affords our college the opportunity to purchase some very high end equipment to modernize the technology our students will be learning to operate.

“With modern mediated teleprescence equipment, SCTCC will be able to send training to remote sites in several area communities over electronic systems, bringing the training opportunities right into the manufacturing plant,” Peterson said. “This method also promotes the concept of many companies coming together for training with small groups at multiple sites sharing in the opportunities.”

Dr. Robert Musgrove, president of PTC, said the grant is well-timed for the region. “In East Central Minnesota, manufacturers in precision metals are rapidly adopting more and more automation into their processes,” he said. “The demand for trained technicians in this region is increasing exponentially.

“Meanwhile, the plastics industry in the area has been experiencing substantial growth, both in existing companies and in terms of new startups.

“The programs that we at Pine Tech will create with this grant funding will meet some critical workforce needs in these industries,” Musgrove said. “The Department of Labor funding comes at a critical juncture between industry demand, the need for job creation and the yawning skills gap.”

“The 360┬║ Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence is very excited about this grant,” said Jeremy Leffelman, assistant director of the BSU-based Center. “These funds will allow our Center and our partner colleges to continue the important work of bridging the skills gap in the manufacturing industry and ensuring that the U.S. remains competitive in the global market.”

In addition to the college partners in the grant, 18 regional manufacturing businesses pledged their support in the form of cash, equipment and other support valued at over $2 million.   And, over 20 other government agencies, school districts and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe also pledged their support.

“This is great news for the whole Minnesota manufacturing industry,” said Tom Haglin, CEO of LINDAR, Inc. and Lakeland Mold, Inc., Brainerd. “One of the largest issues we face is having enough people with the right training to fill high-skill jobs. The opportunities this grant provides will help us get the right people so we can continue the growth of our state's manufacturing sector.”

“This is a great example of how business, education and government can come together to help build our economy – no one of us on our own could have made this happen,” said CLC’s Wig.

The grant is part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, which promotes skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers. The U.S. Department of Labor is implementing and administering the program in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education.

The plan to educate Trade Adjustment Assistance-impacted workers, veterans and other dislocated workers is built around a six-step process, with multiple exit-to-employment points throughout.

The grant emphasizes evidence-based program design. CLC and consortium partners are required to collect rigorous student outcome data annually and conduct final evaluations at the end of the grant period to build knowledge about which strategies are most effective in placing graduates in jobs.