AMTEC catalyst for innovations in Roane State outreach

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a four-part series of articles focused on Roane State Community College’s {RSCC} activities in the region. The series expands on topics covered in an interview with RSCC President Gary Goff that was posted February 3. The first article in the new series was posted on March 15.)

Roane State Community College’s (RSCC) Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC) has been a catalyst for a number of innovations in the college’s program development and service delivery.

As Lou Rabinowitz, Director of the college’s Workforce, Economic Development and Technology Programs Division, noted, “The opportunity to create a composites cluster with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) helped crystalize our thinking” several years ago.

The result was a new set of partners, a closer strategic alliance with ORNL, a training program that is offered in the Halcyon Commercialization Center in the Oak Ridge Science and Technology Park inside ORNL, and several follow-on “big wins” for the college.

During a multi-program interview with teknovation.biz, Nolan Nevels, AMTEC Director, and Mike Copeland, Assistant Director, talked about their vision for the program and the success that they have realized thus far.

“The AMTEC program is designed to train entry-level technicians” in advanced materials like solar and composites, Nevels said. When the program was originally conceived, there were two large projects planned in the region – Confluence Solar’s manufacturing plant in Clinton and ORNL’s Carbon Fiber Technology Facility in Oak Ridge. The latter will be operational soon in Oak Ridge’s Horizon Center, but the Confluence project is dead.

AMTEC, which is focused on job creation, has adapted to the environment by offering a “rapid training program (to retrain workers) when there is a big layoff in the area,” Rabinowitz said. Nevels added that it is to “get people trained and in a job.”

“We provide OSHA training, basic computer skills, even lean manufacturing to let these people go get a job,” Nevels said. He cited AMTEC’s work in helping unemployed or underemployed workers learn how to create a resume and how to interview for a job, skills that many have never developed because of the formerly robust economy.

Copeland credited the AMTEC Advisory Board with playing a significant role such as participating in mock interviews where AMTEC students have the opportunity to experience the interview process firsthand.

The grant was awarded in June 2010, and AMTEC’s first 14-week class was offered in November 2010. Nevels said a total of 125 students have completed the training.

Copeland has been interviewing the graduates who have been placed so that AMTEC can determine how to best ensure a “realistic job preview.” Nevels said AMTEC has completed about 90 percent of a video that will be used in the AMTEC orientation to make sure that students understand the work environment where they will likely be after graduation.

“It will help people see what manufacturing is really like,” Nevels said. “There are many things in a program like AMTEC that you have to learn as you go,” noting that an incorrect perception about a manufacturing job was not something the AMTEC team had expected.

He added that “the expectations of students are not always realistic,” noting that many somehow incorrectly assumed that completion of the AMTEC training would guarantee being hired by either ORNL or Confluence.

“We never said that,” Nevels emphasized while acknowledging that perceptions have to be addressed.

Copeland talked about the feedback that is being generated from AMTEC’s conversations with employers of its graduates, including their expectations. He said that they are candid in saying, “This is what we are seeing and this is where you need to modify the curriculum.” He added that the AMTEC team is approaching the issue with a philosophy of “continuous growth.”

Nevels said another challenge has been the inability of Roane State to conduct drug testing before a student can enroll in the program. Since most employers insist on pre-employment drug testing, this fact will be addressed in the orientation video to ensure that students understand employer requirements after graduation.

Roane State is about 16 months into a three-year grant that is most likely not renewable. This fact does not bother Nevels who said, “We are developing a sustainability plan.” The grant allows Roane State to do incumbent training, and Nevels believes company specific, customized training in three areas – composites and carbon fiber, solar and energy efficiency, and general industry skills – will help ensure a transition from grants funding to self-sufficiency.

NEXT UP: The Advanced Composites Employment (ACE) Accelerator initiative.

 

 

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