Grant Activities Underway to Prepare Students for Local Manufacturing Jobs

Flathead Valley Community College’s recent award of a $2,999,969 federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant is in full swing.  The college’s Amplifying Montana’s Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation and Industry Project centers on meeting the needs of the nearly 600 local manufacturing businesses operating in Northwest Montana while addressing the projected substantial job growth in the industry over the next few years.

Grant-funded activities currently underway at FVCC include creating two new industrial machine technology certificate programs; purchasing new Computer Numerical Control (CNC) mills and lathes to enhance training; moving the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center to FVCC Kalispell campus; renovating the Occupational Trades Building to provide space for two new machining classrooms; hiring an entrepreneurship coordinator,  advanced manufacturing specialists, and advisors to work with students; developing internships and apprenticeships with area employers; and developing  training focused on computer-assisted learning through the Math Department.

Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machinists work in machinery and machine tool manufacturing, small arms manufacturing and machine shops.  Many opportunities exist for entry-level machinists and manufacturing technicians in Northwest Montana.  The manufacturing industry has experienced employment growth in recent years, with Flathead manufacturing employment increasing 4.8 percent in 2011.

Along with the industry growth, the need to replace an aging workforce is expected to provide ample opportunities for graduates.  Nationally, employment of CNC machinists is projected to increase by 19.2 percent between 2010 and 2020, exceeding the rate of overall projected employment growth.

According to Executive Director, Economic Development and Continuing Education Susie Burch, the objective is to build an effectively trained workforce that is ready to go to work.  She calls the grant “just the right thing at the right time.”

“What a very exciting opportunity this is for our community and our college,” said Burch.  “As you look around the county and see all of the exciting things happening in manufacturing, the urgency is here to ramp up our local manufacturing workforce.”

According to Project Coordinator Gail Whitney, the college has been meeting with area employers and advisory committees to create a robust curriculum so students effectively and efficiently develop meaning and valuable skills area employers are looking for.

Among the numerous project accomplishments to date, the college will introduce two new industrial machine technology programs this spring.  The college worked with area employers to develop the curriculum for the new Technician Track Level I and Machinist Technician certificates to ensure the programs will align with the employers’ needs.

“The input we have received from area employers has been invaluable,” said Whitney.  “They have helped us tremendously by identifying the relevant skillsets needed out of their employees.  We are grateful to have such collaborative project partners.”

“Applied Materials applauds the federal administration’s dedication to expanding job training for the manufacturing industry through its new community college and career training initiative, said Jason Manger, Final Test Manufacturing Manager at Applied Materials, Semitool Business Unit.  “Building a strong curriculum for advanced manufacturing will benefit many local manufacturing companies, and Applied is proud to partner with Flathead Valley Community College to develop innovative classes and support services which will strengthen tomorrow’s workforce with the required skills and resources they need to compete for high-wage, high-skill careers in advanced manufacturing.”

Plum Creek Marketing, Inc. Senior Human Resources Manager, Manufacturing Jacey Barnaby says the grant is an excellent opportunity for residents of the area to gain training that aligns with the skill sets required in many of their manufacturing positions.

“It has been a pleasure working with FVCC to create new training opportunities for residents to obtain skills that fit our employment needs, as well as other employers in the valley,” said Barnaby.  “FVCC was willing to listen to the needs of the local area employers and devise training programs to meet these needs.”

Another project feat was bringing the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) to the FVCC campus.  The MMEC is a statewide manufacturing outreach & assistance center based out of the College of Engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman that is staffed by full-time professionals with degrees in engineering and extensive experience in manufacturing and business in a variety of industries.  MMEC is part of a nationwide network to assist small and mid-size manufacturers in becoming more competitive and profitable.

Field Engineer Bill Nicholson, who represents MMEC’s Kalispell extension, says FVCC’s program will fill a growing need as new industries continue to move into the valley.

“In working with manufacturing clients around the valley, I’ve found one of their biggest frustrations is finding a good skilled workforce that has the ability to hit the ground running,” he said.  “The program that FVCC is creating will develop highly-skilled individuals who will have the abilities to be productive immediately.  The program also will save companies time and resources by not having to train their employees, an extremely high cost savings when you factor in lost productivity.”

An additional achievement brought on by this grant is the college adopting the National Career Readiness Certificate.  According to Vice President of Instruction and Student Services Kristen Jones, the credential is used widely in other states, and Montana is just starting to get on board with it.  The credential will provide students an added value to their education they receive at FVCC as it exhibits career preparedness.  Jones says the college is working with area employers to begin recognizing the certificates.

Whitney is proud of the collaboration between the project partners.  Those partners include Raytheon, Applied Materials, Diversified Plastics, Inc., Zinc Air Inc., Plum Creek Timber Company, Synergy Aircraft, Sonju Industrial, MC Squared, Defiance, MilTech, Distinctive Countertops, The Montana Rifleman, Inc., Timberline Tool, The Thompson Group, Nomad Global Communication Solutions, Montana State Workforce Investment Board, Flathead Job Service, Community Action Partnership, Kootenai Job Service, Montana West Economic Development , Flathead County Economic Development Authority, Flathead Valley Community College Foundation, and National Association of Community College Entrepreneurs.

“Everybody has really worked together to make this happen,” said Whitney.

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