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Sunday, 08 June 2014 22:00

Federal grant allows RMTC to expand in Battle Creek

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Kellogg Community College’s Regional Manufacturing Technology Center at Fort Custer Industrial Park received a $2.7 million grant to invest in upgrading and replacing equipment over the next three years. The center offers training to workers who already have jobs but are looking to advance their skills, often with the help of their employers. Kellogg Community College’s Regional Manufacturing Technology Center at Fort Custer Industrial Park received a $2.7 million grant to invest in upgrading and replacing equipment over the next three years. The center offers training to workers who already have jobs but are looking to advance their skills, often with the help of their employers. COURTESY PHOTO

Manufacturers in Battle Creek have new reasons to consider tapping into the Regional Manufacturing Technology Center when trying to hire new workers or developing skilled talent from within their organizations.

Thanks to a $2.7 million grant in March from the U.S. Department of Labor, Kellogg Community College will invest over the next three years to replace and upgrade equipment at the RMTC — based in Fort Custer Industrial Park. The college will also pay for a variety of program expansions within the college’s industrial trades and workforce solutions programs that target Michigan’s growing need for manufacturing employees.

The funding is part of the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Community College and Career Training grant program, a multi-year, nearly $2 billion initiative to expand targeted training programs for unemployed workers.

Sara Hubbard, director of the RMTC’s workforce solutions program, said the grant allowed the center to purchase $1.2 million in equipment that will be used for manufacturing disciplines such as robotic diversified technology and instrumentation for the food and pharmaceutical industries. The TAA grant also will enable the RMTC to take in students from outside Calhoun County.

“We need to make sure we are covering all of the brands needed for industry in our area,” Hubbard said.

Students receive training in the assembly of small and large parts to hone their dexterity skills and also work on soft skills such as understanding expected performance duties or how to read instruction manuals.

“We are really prepping them for that next job,” Hubbard said.

Between 800 and 1,200 students come through the RMTC annually. The majority of them are already employed by manufacturers in the region such as Denso, Kellogg or Ralston that pay the cost of their ongoing training.

However, some students are also individuals who have lost their jobs and are looking to switch careers or recent high school graduates seeking careers in the manufacturing sector.

Flexibility for students, employers

The investment in training and technology is vital to meeting the increasing employer demands for skilled workers in the Southwest Michigan region. In 2013, new companies and existing employers announced expansions that are expected to bring more than 1,000 new manufacturing jobs to the area over the next two to three years.

Laura McGuire, the director of RMTC, said the center has worked with more than 250 companies since it opened in 1986. This semester, 40 companies have sent employees — also called sponsored students — to take training courses in some area of manufacturing. These sponsored students will complete between three and four credits per semester.

“We design programs based on what students need,” she said. “The companies can choose modules they want to build (into) company-sponsored programs such an electrician program that has some electrical and some robotics training.”

A major advantage of the programs and training offered at the RMTC is its open-entry, open-exit policy, meaning students have the flexibility to attend the programs based on the needs of their employers. For instance, if a manufacturer is ramping up production and requiring all employees to work, the student will resume his/her studies once the company begins working regular shifts again.

About 80 percent of the 333 employees at Hi-Lex Corp. in Battle Creek have received training at the RMTC, said Mitch Freeman, the company’s human resources manager.

He said the training center continues to be a great resource for Hi-Lex, which manufactures electromechanical devices and control cables for automobiles and recreational equipment such as all-terrain vehicles and golf carts.

“A lot of the people we get want a job, but they’ve never worked before or have moved around a lot,” Freeman said. “A lot of our young employees take classes at the RMTC on a regular basis.”

Karl Dehn, president of Battle Creek Unlimited, said RMTC has been a critical part of the Battle Creek area’s economic development efforts and of the overall success of employers in the region. He said having the ability to develop talent and customize programs within companies is what sets the RMTC apart and makes the program such a vital economic development player.

“The RMTC is so well designed and very employer-centric,” Dehn said. “The RMTC is used as the model when other communities are encouraged to develop new technology centers around the state.”

Growing the skilled trades

McGuire of the RMTC said the program is also trying to attract more young people into the trades.

Battle Creek Unlimited’s Dehn said the success of skilled trades programs are key in developing a base of talent in the region.

“There are a lot of efforts underway to make sure that in the K-12 educational system, students have opportunities to get exposed to other career options,” Dehn said. “There are lucrative, highly skilled technical careers out there, and there’s a very large demand within the skilled trades.”

Eric Greene, spokesperson for KCC, said the RMTC is open to anyone who wants to enroll. Those who are unemployed or students are able to go through a four-week program and go right into a job with a company that will pay the cost of further training and skill-building.

“You can literally walk in the door and start that day,” Greene said.

Programs offered include: industrial electricity and electronics, industrial HVAC, industrial renewable energy, and industrial machining technology. Training also is available for people interested in taking supervisory or leadership roles within their companies.

“Leadership for us is one of our largest areas,” Hubbard said. “With the growth that came back after the recession, companies promoted individuals, so there were gaps to fill.”

The RMTC — through KCC — works in cooperation with seven other community colleges in the region that received part of the $2 billion TAA initiative. This allows students to attend another community college if a program they want or need isn’t being offered at the RMTC in Battle Creek.

“So if they want to be a plant or maintenance manager, they could go to Siena Heights,” McGuire said.

Although the RMTC works with employers who are planning to add to their workforce, there is a Rapid Response Team in place that gets to work when a company closes down. Employees at those companies are assigned a case manager to help them identify a training program that is right for them. That case manager stays with their assigned students throughout their training process.

“Technology is changing in manufacturing faster than it ever has, so having a regional center training people on model technologies is critical to our employers,” Dehn said.

Read 4637 times Last modified on Sunday, 08 June 2014 21:58

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