Pellissippi State awarded federal grant for manufacturing training and education

A $15 million federal grant awarded to a consortium that includes Pellissippi State Community College is earmarked to fund manufacturing job training for East Tennesseans and help local companies in search of more skilled workers.

The funding also could transform manufacturing education and training—an area in which Pellissippi State has emerged as a leader.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Sept. 19 that the grant had been awarded to the multi-state consortium. One goal of the 13-college partnership is to redesign teaching and delivery programs in manufacturing. Pellissippi State is the only community college in Tennessee to be a member.

“We’re honored to receive this grant and look forward to this collaboration,” said L. Anthony Wise Jr., Pellissippi State president.

“Working with our consortium partners, we’ll be able to come up with innovative ways to train and educate workers in manufacturing. Our being part of the consortium benefits our community and the region’s manufacturers, and it better positions the U.S. to compete in the global market.”

The DOL grant awards a minimum of $760,000 to each consortium member during a three-year period. The funding will boost instructional capacity at each school, pay for equipment and technical support, and improve online delivery of the college’s Engineering Technology classes.

Pellissippi State offers a two-year associate’s degree in Engineering Technology. Students can concentrate in Civil Engineering, Electrical Construction Management, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Maintenance, Manufacturing or Mechanical Engineering.

The grant-funded training is directed toward helping workers who are displaced, unemployed or underemployed. It also focuses on the needs of the manufacturing industry.

Manufacturing employers and manufacturing instructors alike recognize a “disconnect” between the needs of industry and the content of manufacturing curricula in most colleges, according to Pat Riddle. Riddle is the program coordinator and a faculty member in Mechanical Engineering at Pellissippi State. He is also the co-leader of curriculum development for the DOL grant.

Manufacturing has changed a lot in the last 30 years, and with those changes have come the introduction of robotics and other technological advances that have reduced the need for manual labor. As a result, manufacturing now requires employees with more education and skills, says Riddle.

“What we’re starting to see now is a blend in the industrial environment of machinery and electronic communications,” he said. “In other words, we’re starting to see high-speed production environments that require workers who not only work hard but can think through problems on their own, to help their company find solutions to better and more efficient production.”

One example of how the grant will benefit Pellissippi State—and subsequently employees and employers—is that it will fund a software development tool called a fault simulator. A fault simulator allows users to introduce computer-application glitches that might occur in a real workplace.

“With it, we will have the capability to introduce problems that require troubleshooting skills,” said Riddle. “That is a major component that employers consistently ask for from us.  The equipment will provide the ultimate in state-of-the-art problem-solving development and skills development.”

Pellissippi State has a history of working with East Tennessee employers to find workforce development solutions, while creating more flexible pathways to education for the region’s residents.

In 2004, for example, Pellissippi State joined forces with several other colleges and the nation’s automakers on a new curriculum to train autoworkers. The partnership was the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative.

This August, AMTEC announced the release of a new general maintenance mechatronics curriculum and program, which Pellissippi State’s Business and Community Services staff and Mechanical Engineering Technology degree program (now the Mechanical Engineering concentration) faculty helped create. The new program also is expected to benefit workers and employers in non-automotive manufacturing.

Pellissippi State can build on its work with the AMTEC partnership for the DOL grant project.

“This new multi-college collaboration is an offshoot to [AMTEC] and runs parallel to it,” said Riddle.

To find out more about the grant, manufacturing training and Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call (865) 694-6400.

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