Apr 4th, 2017
Students at Jackson State Community College can earn a cost-effective degree along with wages at a local manufacturer through a workforce development co-op within the Industrial Technology program.
The Advanced Maintenance Technician (AMT) co-op launched in 2014 to encourage graduating high school seniors to pursue careers in the manufacturing sector and to generate much-needed skilled labor for local companies. The first cohort of 20 students graduated last May with an associate of applied science degree in industrial technology, and all of them landed a job in manufacturing. The cohort that will graduate this May is on track to do the same.
"The co-op allows students to get an associate degree along with on-the-job training, and then go into a career that is very lucrative," said AMT Completion Coordinator Cathi Roberts. "If they like working with their hands, if they like math, and if they want a good job with the potential for growth, they can get that in five semesters."
Students attend two full days of classes each week, learning subjects such as electricity, fluid power, mechanics, automation and robotics. They spend three days working at a local manufacturing company. They are paid for their work on a graduated scale, earning $12 an hour during the first semester and $14 an hour during the last.
And, most of the educational expenses are paid for by the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, so students aren't saddled with student-loan debt when they enter the workforce.
"I thought it was a great opportunity," said Geo Jimenez, who will graduate this spring and has accepted a job with Gerdau after college. "It not only focuses on education, but you can actually go to work. You get out of college debt-free with a good degree."
Manufacturing jobs have transformed through the years. Safety is the priority, and working conditions have improved. They require highly skilled employees, and annual wages are typically $40,000 to $60,000.
The co-op was created at the request of a consortium of local manufacturers concerned about training the workforce. The lack of workers in skilled trades had worsened, and companies were looking for ways to strengthen their pipelines of qualified employees.
To participate, students enrolled at Jackson State must complete a job application and write a 500-word essay. They then attend a series of interviews over the course of an hour with representatives from local manufacturing companies. The companies then select the students that are the best fit.
In 2015, Jackson State made the Advanced Maintenance Technician co-op available for employees of local companies who need to develop a new set of skills, particularly in maintenance and engineering. Workers typically spend an evening at Jackson State each week attending technical classes - the specific classes and amount of class time is customizable and depends on the needs of the company. In many cases, employees take classes while on the clock or have their tuition paid for by their employer.
Fifteen manufacturing companies joined the consortium at the launch of the co-op, and today there are 20. Roberts said Jackson State would like to recruit as many as 40.
"It's an opportunity to give back to the community by serving our youth and training our youth while recruiting highly skilled individuals for the workforce," Roberts said.
Terri Messer, Dean of Business and Industry at Jackson State, said a lack of skills limits a company's ability to grow, reduces competitiveness and has a negative impact on quality and productivity. The co-op addresses that need while giving students priceless work experience that qualifies them for jobs with global manufacturing companies that operate in Jackson.
"It offers participants a great opportunity to earn an AAS degree, to get their foot in the door of area manufacturers, get trained at a high-tech job, and to get paid while doing it," Messer said. "This is a unique approach to gain career experience in a highly technical field while obtaining an associate degree."
More information about the admissions process and an application for the AMT program can be found at www.jscc.edu/amt or by contacting Roberts at 731-425-9584 or emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.