At The Automation Conference 2014, attendee Bob Williams was excited. As vice president of sales and marketing for packaging machine maker Axon Corp., he had just heard a presentation by Cheryl Garrison and other representatives of Tri-County Technical College, a public community college that is proving itself to be an innovator in preparing a highly skilled workforce for manufacturers in its area of the state. Raleigh, N.C.-based Axon was looking for people, and Williams had just heard how major manufacturers in South Carolina, such as BMW, Boeing, Bosch, Michelin and Schneider Electric, were working with Tri-County Technical College to create a pipeline of highly skilled employees.
Williams and other attendees learned that Tri-County’s work-based learning (WBL) approach—which encompasses co-op programs, apprenticeships, “scholars programs” and internships—is enabling manufacturers to find and grow new technical employees. Industrial companies collaborate with the college to direct the curriculum, develop courses, and train students in specific skills.
Tri-County students can choose from two-year university-transfer associate degree programs and applied technical associate degrees, diplomas and certificates in more than 70 majors. Programs at the college currently attracting the highest level of co-op interest are Industrial Electronics Technology, Mechatronics Technology, General Engineering Technology, and Machine Tool Technology. The college averages more than 200 students each in the Industrial Electronics Technology and Mechatronics programs every year, said Shan Smith, program coordinator for Industrial Electronics Technology.
Garrison said that in October 2012, there were six co-op agreements with area manufacturers serving 26 students. Less than a year later, there were 19 agreements, and today 28 companies are involved, serving 95 students. “Every co-op is different, and the company directs us in what they want,” Garrison said.
“Everybody is struggling to find technicians,” said Doug Wilson, senior associate development specialist for Bosch, which has an automotive parts manufacturing plant in the area. The company’s Anderson facility partnered with Tri-County to create the Bosch Technical Scholars Program. Students enroll in evening courses and work full-time during the day at the plant. They earn the same benefits as other Bosch associates and are paid $14 to $18 per hour, said Wilson. After the four-month Scholars program is completed, students move into entry-level technical positions at Bosch as they become available, making $22 to $33 per hour.
Co-ops also differ in the level and type of involvement by company employees. Schneider Electric's Seneca, S.C. plant employs 600 people who engineer-to-order motor control centers (MCCs), enclosed products and electric vehicle chargers. Engineering Manager Ted Stokes said Tri-County students do motor control unit wiring, MCC quality control testing and application engineering, and intelligent MCC testing. For Seneca plant employees, collaboration with Tri-County includes serving on curriculum advisory committees, developing WBL courses, providing adjunct instructors, and making financial and equipment donations. By participating in Tri-County’s program as an instructor and mentor, Stokes gets to directly identify some of the most promising candidates early, and gauge their skills.
At The Automation Conference, Automation World’s parent company, Summit Media, said that it is donating to the cause of growing the next generation of industrial workers as well: It named Tri-County Technical College as the recipient of the 2014 David A. Harvey Memorial Scholarship. Summit Media also announced the release of the Workforce Development Playbook. More than 20 experts have contributed their research and experiences to this 200-page resource, which presents programs successfully employed by industry, education and government to solve the short- and long-term problems of preparing workers for the manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. Electronic and print versions are available at http://awgo.to/268. Proceeds from the sale of paperback copies of the book will go toward the David A. Harvey Memorial Scholarship fund.
For more background information on TriCounty Technical College and its manufacturing co-op program, see “Bridging the Engineering Education Gap”.