Local college prepares students for advanced manufacturing job boom

DECATUR, Ala. - Calhoun Community College prides itself on serving its community and preparing to meet its needs. With the addition of Toyota-Mazda on the way, soon there will be more advanced manufacturing jobs in this area for students to fill.

"We just want to get the word out there that you can be successful, and make good money, and support a family with two years of education," said Kelli Morris, Calhoun's Director of Career Services.

Thursday, college and industry leaders explained the possibilities to families.

An established, nationally-recognized program called The Alabama F.A.M.E. (Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT) is available. Students who are chosen earn two-year Associate degrees with cutting-edge education in the field, plus paid working experience at sponsoring companies in the area. These companies include Toyota, Polaris, Brown Precision, and Sonoco.

"They have an opportunity to really mold students from the beginning," said Morris. "We are working with companies in programs like this to make sure we are producing not only quality candidates but in a timely manner that they need."

15-20 students can be accepted based on the program's current size, but leaders expect it to expand.

"Hopefully things like the FAME program will grow. This program is in response to industry demand. So if that industry demand goes up and sponsorships go up, we will respond to that," Morris explained.

She said there is a skills gap and true need for more professionals in advanced manufacturing in the Tennessee Valley. With Toyota-Mazda incoming, that will surely increase. Calhoun is one institution absorbing a responsibility to fill those roles and support the incoming companies.

"It's great time to be in manufacturing, for sure. And the thing is-- before Toyota-Mazda came into the picture, there was still a skills gap for maintenance skilled technicians that these employers are having a hard time filling these skilled trade positions," said Morris. "We have three years of lead time. I believe the estimate is that for the 4000 employees that will eventually be there, about 10% is skilled trades. That's 300-400 (jobs), and we are already having trouble filling our current needs. So we are going to work with those companies and respond to that need."

Lucas Phillips is about to graduate from the FAME program. It's where he is getting his start in a career he has come to love.

"I've got a lot of family that works in the same industry," he said. "Just seeing how they live and the opportunities they've been given because of industrial maintenance inspired me to do it myself."

He is excited for the future. "There is an endless number of opportunities," he noted.

There is a March 1 application deadline to apply for the FAME program. The students applying now will graduate after 5 semesters in May 2020, Morris said.