College's Manufacturing Center of Excellence to improve worker
By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 13, 2014 1:46 PM
Wayne Community College will use unexpected funding from Wayne County to purchase machining, welding and engineering training equipment. From left are welding technology students Romel Jackson and Tramus Hunter, welding technology instructor Chad Pate and student Cory Styles.
As envisioned, the proposed Wayne County Manufacturing Center of Excellence would be filled with state-of-the-art equipment, resemble what a manufacturing floor would look like and have classroom areas and some office space as well.
But until a permanent home can be found for it, the fledgling center consists of whatever space where Wayne Community College can shoehorn in the latest in high-tech equipment.
The center does not have to be located on campus, but since the college would provide much of the manpower, equipment and run it as well, the campus would be the ideal location, WCC President Dr. Kay Albertson said.
"We do have a blueprint," Mrs. Albertson said. "Our initial first phase stab at this is about 30,000 square feet minimally."
"Think of an economic engine," said Don Magoon, WCC chief of administrative services. "Now think of how do we put it all in one place as an industry attraction to bring jobs to Wayne County and get the standard of living back?"
Magoon said he had spent 20 years in manufacturing and now those once good-paying jobs have moved to China, Mexico or India.
"If we are going to be in manufacturing, we are going to have to be doing this stuff," he said. "If we want to attract industry to Wayne County, we have got to have a trained work force. We have got to be able to prove the skill sets."
The college has been aggressive and focused on getting the equipment, Mrs. Albertson said. WCC will have high-tech equipment not now available anywhere else in the country, she said.
The college recently benefited from $643,600 in unexpected county funding. The money will be used to purchase machining, welding and engineering training equipment.
"They (equipment items) have been on our list for some time," Mrs. Albertson said. "We just don't have access to the funding that we needed for it. I might get from the state about $800,000 a year for equipment.
"Well, I have to fund this entire campus's needs -- a hundred programs, as well as the infrastructure that we have here for technology. So we could never use that money to get the full complex for equipment and needs that we have for advanced manufacturing."
Acquiring the equipment the county money will be used to purchase could have taken years of grant writing, she said. The equipment should be ready by next fall and will complement what already is in place, Mrs. Albertson said.
"We are currently going to be able to house all of this equipment here," Mrs. Albertson said. "But sooner or later there comes a time that you just have to just stop it, but I wasn't willing for us to not pursue these grants simply because we did not have a central location.
"I was just not willing not to move forward aggressively and getting the equipment that we need to train the work force. That would have been foolish on our part. So that is why we are making revisions to parts of the campus so we can house this until that suitable facility can be found."
WCC has been looking for such a facility, but cannot purchase property, she said.
"So we are either going to have to have someone who either loves us a lot to provide us with a facility, and we would like that," Mrs. Albertson said. "Or we have to have some type of public-private partnership that can help us find the funding to move forward with this."
Mrs. Albertson said college and county officials have looked at similar facilities in other communities to see how it is done. Many of those centers have been started with the help of a particular company, she said.
Existing local businesses could utilize the center for worker training as well, she said.
"We would also like to have apprenticeships, particularly with our Wayne County public schools," she said. "Apprenticeships are resurging."
One reason apprenticeships have not been used as much is because of safety and liability concerns, she said.
"Because we would be using a lot of simulator equipment we feel that we could do more apprenticeships with that young 16-, 17-year-old who could come in and work on these simulated centers," Mrs. Albertson said. "We think that is a great way to get the younger generation very interested in real high-tech advanced manufacturing."
Also of importance to creating the center are the Career Ready Certificates and third-party credentials available through the college, Mrs. Albertson said.
"Many, many, many of the persons who have been involved in manufacturing over the years are now at retirement age," she said. "It is like with so many other professions, there is not that talent pool to put back into the labor force. Plus manufacturing has changed significantly since my generation came about and went into the work force.
"So the skill sets that are needed for these advance manufacturing jobs -- machining, welding, engineering, electronics -- all of those areas have really, really changed and are much more technologically oriented. So we knew we had to keep pace with that and, in order to assist the work force, we were going to have to put a different emphasis, a more technology-oriented emphasis and get people involved. To do that you have really got to look at what business and industry need. That is what we did."