Paid hands-on experience attracts student to high-demand technical career

Mar 21st, 2019

When Zach Stoops found out about the Advanced Maintenance Technician (AMT) Co-op opportunity at Jackson State Community College, he knew that's exactly what he wanted to do.

Stoops was already working in the manufacturing field, but the AMT Co-op would give him job experience and a salary while he attended Jackson State and earned an associate degree. He would work three days a week, starting at a salary of $14 an hour, and attend classes two days a week.

"It's an incredible opportunity to actually get hands-on experience," said Stoops, who is a co-op employee at Henderson Stamping. "I'm getting paid while I get my degree. Honestly, though, it's the experience we're getting that's important because it's hard to get a job without experience."

Cathi Roberts, the AMT Co-op completion coordinator, wants to spread the word about Stoops' success and that of her other students in the AMT Co-op as the April 15 deadline to apply for the next AMT Co-op cohort nears.

The AMT Co-op, which is part of JSCC's accredited Engineering Systems Technology Program, is a partnership between Jackson State and 26 area manufacturers. It helps local industry fill an important need for advanced maintenance personnel, Roberts said.

"To be in the AMT Co-op, one must apply, interview, and be hired by one of the manufacturers in the consortium." About 25 students are accepted into each co-op cohort.

When Stoops graduates in Spring 2020, he expects to be hired at $20 or more an hour.

"Students who graduate on a Saturday are employed full-time on a Monday at an average salary of $20.50 an hour," Roberts said. "Within two years, they are making $25.29 an hour and working in a rewarding and important field. Manufacturing provides goods and services for everyone."

Students are learning a broad spectrum of maintenance skills, from turning a wrench to repair machinery to working on a robot. Graduates with these skills are in high demand, she said, as she referred to a survey Jackson State did on its AMT Co-op graduates.
"Ninety-seven percent are placed in employment immediately after graduation. Eighty-five percent of the students who start in the program, complete it. And though the program is designed to put them right to work, some students go on to a four-year college to complete engineering and business degrees, often paid for by their employers."

Parents should be particularly interested in their children joining the AMT Co-op, she added. Besides the high completion and graduation rates, the co-op students also earn a minimum of $22,000 over the of five semesters of attending classes. While other students are struggling to make ends meet, many of her co-op students are buying their first car or have the money to marry or have a family.

Students in the co-op also must attend team meetings that focus on life skills and soft skills, such as how to save money and team building.

"Parents should love this program," Roberts said. "This program gives students the opportunity to be economically independent."

Students interested in the AMT Co-op can apply online at They must complete separate applications for admission to Jackson State and for admission to the AMT Co-op. The website provides a checklist of items needed for the AMT Co-op application, including an ungraded 500-word essay. Applications must be postmarked April 15 if they are mailed, or they must be in Roberts office by 4:30 p.m. April 15. Her office is in the McWherter Building at Parkway and F.E Wright Drive.

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