Community Colleges Share $13 Million for Manufacturing Programs
By Jill Kasparie, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS - Community colleges in Iowa are receiving a boost for their advanced manufacturing programs.
The state’s 15 community colleges, including Kirkwood Community College, will split a nearly $13 million federal grant. All of the community colleges worked together to get a Department of Labor grant.
Plans are already underway for that money at Kirkwood, which is getting a share of $870,000. Students who currently study manufacturing are anticipating what the new classes will look like.
"Each section is run by a different PLC, it tells the robots and everything what to do,” said Kirkwood Student Dillon Stradt.
Stradt knows exactly what he's talking about. He's in his second year at Kirkwood in the Industrial Technologies program. According to his teachers, students like him, with skills in the manufacturing field, are in high demand at facilities in the Eastern Iowa.
"They are struggling to find individuals with the skills, day one they'd like to have when they hire and they are struggling with what seems to be the current perception that there aren't good careers in manufacturing, which in fact, there are,” said Kim Johnson with Kirkwood Continuing Education & Training Services.
"To be totally honest with you, we could be graduating three times the number of students we have to fill all of the job openings that are out there,” said Dean of Industrial Technologies Jeff Mitchell.
With an economy still on the rebound, the college wants to keep turning out students to fill those openings. The professors are using the grant as seed money to start up a new manufacturing program. It’s one they’ve been waiting for years to begin.
"Our new program is an industrial automation program and we are creating the program to better serve some of the manufacturers here in Eastern Iowa, such as General Mills and Quaker Oats, they have highly automated production lines,” Mitchell said.
Students will learn the ins and outs of how machines, software and new technologies work that at the center of today's manufacturing facilities. They'll practice installing, maintaining and troubleshooting systems.
As for Stradt, he knows he'll likely finish up his degree before taking part in the new program. He, however, knows the new program will help students down the line.
"I think it would be very good," Stradt said.
The new program will start in the fall of 2013. Kirkwood expects to graduate about 20 to 25 students each year with degrees in the new industrial automation program. Work has already started to create a curriculum. The school is collaborating with local businesses to make sure it includes everything students would need to enter the workforce after earning the two-year degree.
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