It will be one year this April that the new $1.25 million RPM Manufacturing Center at the Elkhorn campus of Gateway Technical College (GTC) opened its doors. This dream had been made possible by public-private partnerships, several key contributors, and dedicated educators. Those involved realized that an investment like this was necessary to provide opportunities for students to receive an exceptional education and valuable hands-on training that can lead to a rewarding career in manufacturing.
This past fall, Elkhorn Area High School (EAHS) held an open house to show the community its newly renovated Technical Education wing. The school also gained a new welding and machining teacher, Mike Thomas, who came to EAHS with more than 20 years of experience in manufacturing. Thomas said that enrollment for his classes are already “testing the limits of space,” so he plans on teaching Machine I during the upcoming summer, allowing the students to take the more advanced classes the next school year.
When the renovation took place at EAHS, Thomas was able to work with the contractors in helping to prepare the space. Part of that was installing a tool crib to store gauges and tooling for his machining classes. “The thought is to teach the students that respect and responsibility of tools is necessary in manufacturing,” he stated.
Thomas will be trained in Computer Integrate Manufacturing, a Project Lead the Way course, this summer, as this class will be offered next year at EAHS. There are also plans in the near future to offer a Metrology & Blueprint Reading class. Thomas explains, “I find it personally rewarding to see my students getting the opportunities in class they might not get anywhere else and learning skills that can open so many doors down the road.”
Thomas, along with Precision Plus’ President Mike Reader and Director of Education & Training Mark Beilman, recently met up with GTC president Dr. Bryan Albrecht for a tour of EAHS’ new Tech-Ed wing. Partnerships between the secondary and postsecondary sectors help students and instructors know what is needed to help advance from one level to the next. Many students coming from high schools with vital Tech-Ed programs have a head start in knowing the career path they would like to take when they graduate. Technical college instructors are appreciative to have students that are eager and well-prepared when they arrive. Thomas also added that he hopes to someday have some GTC-transcript courses to offer.
Building and maintaining a network of industry, education, and community is key to continuing to close the advanced manufacturing skills gap. These collaborations provide students with relevant, hands-on knowledge and skills that can lead to internships, scholarships, and rewarding career opportunities. They also provide technical colleges and universities with students that are ready to learn and come prepared with technical skills as well as “soft skills” such as teamwork and problem solving. As for employers, not only are they able to recruit from an exceptional pool of internship and job candidates, but by being involved in the conversation, they can use their voice to directly influence the development of the next generation of manufacturers.
There is a bright future in our country for the advanced manufacturing industry if we continue to learn from one another and foster these relationships.