A federal grant to build industry-specific job training helped three community colleges upgrade their facilities and buy equipment for advanced technology, place hundreds of graduates into higher-paying jobs and got more than 100 companies participating in students’ career development.
With the backing of the business community and three colleges, including two in the Greater Lehigh Valley, the $10 million grant helped fuel career-based training for in-demand jobs.
“The grant has been tremendous,” said Mark Erickson, president of NCC.
In September 2014, Northampton Community College in Bethlehem Township said it would receive a $10 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and share it with Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville and Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke.
As the lead fiscal agent, NCC received the grant a month later and started planning programs and initiatives with its partners, targeting health care, advanced manufacturing and transportation/logistics.
Four years later, officials say the grant helped put students on a better path toward what employers want.
“It allowed us to upgrade some facilities to make sure they are meeting the needs of what employers are looking for,” Erickson said.
This allowed NCC to ensure its facilities are more closely aligned with what students will find when they get out in the workforce.
“We have become much more intentional, much more aggressive in engaging with employers,” Erickson said.
RENOVATIONS, NEW EQUIPMENT
The grant allowed the colleges to buy equipment required to train students, particularly for manufacturing.
In 2015, NCC completed renovations to Hartzell Technology Hall, NCC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which now offers high-tech equipment geared for 21st century manufacturing and technology education. The grant funded most of the renovations and equipment, which includes welding stations, a virtual reality-welding lab and instrumentation lab.
The center includes advanced training equipment in electronics and computer-aided design as the college gutted more than 3,100 square feet.
Across all three colleges, the grant provided a $2.4 million investment toward building classroom and lab space, renovating more than 11,600 square feet and buying advanced equipment.
Victaulic, a manufacturer in Forks Township, has a small training center inside Hartzell Hall so students can see part of what a local manufacturer’s facility looks like as they are working in the center.
The grant, administered through Pennsylvania’s Advanced Training & Hiring, a partnership that collaborates with the three colleges, delivered the training through courses offered at each college. NCC employed PATH members to oversee the grant, ensure each college spent the funds properly and to launch a plan for initiatives to go into production.
The result exceeded expectations for enrollment and completion goals, according to Marco Anglesio, PATH director.
The funds helped create 25 career and technical courses for jobs in advanced manufacturing, health care and transportation/logistics.
1,100 STUDENTS THE FIRST YEAR
The first year, PATH estimated the colleges would receive 519 students entering the program, based on historical data. Instead, they served 1,110 students, Anglesio said.
“Therefore, we ended up offering more sections as the colleges expanded program offerings,” he said. “We were successfully reaching the people we wanted to reach.”
By marketing the program within and outside the colleges and sponsoring events such as Manufacturing Resource Center’s popular “What’s so Cool About Manufacturing?” video contest, PATH increased the level of awareness of the grant-funded initiative and what it could offer.
Of the 1,110 students enrolled in the programs, 601 completed them and 660 earned credentials, Anglesio said.
PATH graduates saw an average 30 percent jump in wages after completing their programs, based on data from the state Department of Labor. PATH looked at first-quarter average wages and then ahead to the next three quarters and compared the figures.
Erickson said the PATH graduates from NCC saw an average 27 percent increase in their annualized wages, which showed a roughly $7,200 increase.
Furthermore, the three colleges adopted new processes for developing curriculum, started and learned new teaching strategies and added employer interest and participation throughout the courses.
Nearly 20 industry partners initially signed with the project, including regional companies such as Victaulic, Mack Trucks, Just Born Inc., B. Braun Medical Inc. and Fresh Pet Kitchens. Seven economic development partners throughout northeastern Pennsylvania also joined the initiative.
After the program began, more than 100 companies participated, Anglesio said.
The companies offered generous support, including job offers to some entire classes, site tours, job interview preparation and participation on advisory boards.
Overall, the grant helped NCC become strategic in its employer engagement, Erickson said.
“Our goal was to address those underserved populations and do research on how to train better,” Anglesio said. “This focused very much on how do we support the colleges going forward? It has impact that will go on for years.”
The grant also sponsored continuing education for the teaching staff and marketing of programs, he said.
“Having offered that, the colleges leave the grant with their staff better trained,” he said.
The staff also benefits from the research knowledge it obtained in how to offer courses in advanced manufacturing.
In addition, the colleges hired many members of PATH to take on new roles and retained the career development staff, he said.
Health care also proved to be a big part of the training provided by the grant.
“That reached a large population of unemployed students,” Anglesio said. “You can’t ask for a better outcome.”