The federal departments of education and labor have awarded Flathead Valley Community College grants totaling more than $3.6 million to develop short-term, innovative job training programs and an entrepreneurship center to help grow small manufacturing in Northwest Montana.
Part of $500 million awarded to 297 community colleges through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative, these grants allow the college to work with local employers to develop skills and jobs in specific fields and careers. The areas include advanced manufacturing, transportation, health care, technology, engineering and mathematics.
College President Jane Karas said the college is excited to see the impact of these grants on students and area employers. In a press release, she said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., devoted much time and effort to secure these grants.
“We greatly appreciate Senator Baucus’ efforts in making these funds available to all community colleges, but especially his helping Montana students and employers,” Karas said. “We are grateful for [his] recognition of the importance of community colleges paving the way for our nation’s future.”
Baucus has been recognized with national awards for his support of community colleges. He lauded the award of this money to FVCC.
“Folks who have been laid off over the last few years deserve a shot at all the tools possible to land good-paying jobs and get back on their feet again,” Baucus said Friday in a prepared statement. “These grants will also help make retraining affordable for Montanans, which is a win-win situation.”
One grant of nearly $3 million will help the college transform its curriculum in advanced manufacturing. This project addresses projected job growth areas in nearly 600 Northwest Montana manufacturing businesses.
“The recent emergence of our local manufacturing industry has left the public work force and our college little time to respond to the growing work-force demands,” said Pete Wade, director of career and technical education. “This grant will help us serve TAA-eligible and other unemployed and incumbent workers in a timely and cost-effective manner while preparing them for local good-paying jobs in a booming industry.”
Wade said TAA-eligible refers to displaced workers in certain industries defined in the act. Incumbent workers are those employed in the field who need to expand their skills to meet industry needs while raising their earning potential.
The project identifies five priority activities:
v Creating latticed (building on each other) and connected short-term certificate programs in advanced manufacturing.
v Adopting a National Career Readiness Certificate assessment of proficiencies.
v Using work-force navigators to strategically align the college and public work-force development system partners such as the Montana State Work-force Investment Board, Flathead Job Service, Community Action Partnership, and Kootenai Job Service.
v Transitioning to a technology-enabled emporium model of developmental mathematics.
v Strengthening entrepreneurship training for job growth by creating an entrepreneurship center on campus to help grow Northwest Montana’s small manufacturing cluster.
Wade said the college has held a number of meetings with manufacturing representatives on how to hone courses to better and more efficiently train students for industry jobs. He hopes to offer the first short certificate program this spring.
“Now we need to do a little construction, purchase equipment and hire people,” he said.
One proposed short certificate would allow a student to qualify inside of a semester and interim session, which runs about two weeks between semesters. For example, a student would attend six hours a day, five days a week during the interim session to get up to speed in the course area, then start the regular semester.
Under this scenario, the college could combine mills and lathes courses with seven to eight weeks devoted to each. The idea is for the college to train a student up to industry standards as quickly as possible.
“We would like to have people come here and expand their skills,” Wade said. “Some people may already work at a company.”
Employer partners in the project 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 and Nomad Global Communications.
Other key project partners will include FVCC Foundation, Montana West Economic Development and the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurs.
The smaller grant of $653,000 sets up a partnership with Pueblo Community College in Colorado to create remote laboratory experiences with virtual science experiments for FVCC’s allied health programs. As a result, students may take online prerequisite classes with labs such as chemistry, physics and biology.
Kristen Jones, vice president of instruction and student services, said many part-time students have difficulty taking these daytime prerequisite classes due to work and family conflicts.
“This grant will revolutionize our science labs, enhancing clinical skills education and providing students more opportunities to take the classes they need to achieve their educational goals in a timely manner,” Jones said.
Programs impacted by this grant include the college’s associates degrees in practical nursing, nursing and paramedicine.
The grant also provides for a new pre-nursing certificate. The certificate will provide new opportunities for students such as jobs as professional home health aides beyond what the college’s Certified Nurse’s Aide training offers.