Building better workers: Bucks County Community College showcases new training programs

To celebrate National Manufacturing Day last Friday, Bucks County Community College showed off something it built over the past year: its new metalwork training program.

During an open house event at the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Bristol Borough, representatives from the college talked about the success they’ve had so far. They also discussed plans to continue training people in fields that not everyone recognizes are in demand.

“We found, in talking to our local manufacturers, that many are challenged by an inability to find good, trained employees,” said Bucks County Community College President Dr. Stephanie Shanblatt. “We created our metal working program in direct response to their needs.”

That program is a 13-week cohort session that meets Monday through Friday to learn, hands-on, the skills needed to secure entry-level — but not minimum wage, Shanblatt stressed — jobs in manufacturing industries.

Here, students learns skills that local employers say they need. They also walk away with OSHA, forklift and other nationally-recognized certifications.

There’s also a focus on soft skills like resume-writing, CPR and managing personal and professional schedules — factors that Shanblatt said employers are also look for.

And, she said, they’re definitely looking: as baby boomers reach retirement age and more young people consider college instead of a blue-collar trade, many industrial companies are beginning to struggle to find qualified workers for jobs that can can easily end up paying nearly $70,000 a year.

“There’s a need and we’re filling that need,” said Shanblatt. “It’s really a career worth considering. Advanced manufacturing is alive and well in Bucks County.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jim Ryan, a representative of Dow Chemical located in the same industrial park as the College’s training center. Currently, he said, the company regularly brings on temporary employees and looks for the best workers to bring on full-time.

“That’s not the best model,” said Ryan.

It is, however, the one the College is looking to change. Part of the program includes the administrators looking closely at what skill sets local companies are looking for, and also connecting their students with potential employers. The program includes weekly tours where students visit local companies to get a feel for what the jobs are like. Employers can also get a sense of whom they’d want to hire.

“It lets them get their eyes on candidates from the very beginning,” said Michael Reil, director of business development for the college. As a former recruiter, he’s familiar with the challenges these companies face. The program, he said, is set up to make the students “gold on the streets” when they’re done.

“It’s ‘cradle to the grave’ training,” he said.

His claims are backed up by the program’s success rate: nearly 100-percent placement for students who’ve taken the cohort so far. And, local employers have been doubling down by offering tours, guest instructors and advice on curriculum, and also providing materials and tools.

As a result, the training center is equipped with everything from band saws and drill presses to work tables and high-end, computer-driven machinery along with raw materials like bronze bars. Stock is expensive, said Reil, and praises companies like Pennsylvania Steel and Martelli Metals, among many others, who “graciously” donate items.

And, the College makes sure to put it all to good use in teaching students skills they need to thrive in an industry that, along with a good paycheck, can also pack a sense of personal satisfaction.

“In manufacturing, you always have a sense of fulfillment,” said Rich Vanderbilt. Now a full-time instructor with the program, he’s spent three decades in steel fabrication and industrial and electronic maintenance.

“You’d watch raw materials come in through the back door and turn into something tangible, something people want,” he said. “Your job might be small, but you’re seeing the big picture and you know you’re part of something.”

For information, call 215-968-8000 or visit http://www.bucks.edu/academics/cwd/industrial-tech.

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