The QA Commons is mindful of the dramatic and transformational impact COVID-19 is having on all institutions of higher education. As an organization, we are adapting our services to support preparing graduates for the workplace that is now changing more precipitously than ever.
Gerald Sexton and Deborah Anderson drove 330 miles to deliver congratulatory lawn signs to his 19 graduates in the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky. The trip required two days and spanned two states. On day one, he drove 60 miles north into Indiana. The next day, he drove 100 miles from his home, headed south in Kentucky. “They were excited; they didn’t expect it,” said Gerald. “Especially the first day, before any of the photos hit Facebook.”
Gerald is the Program Director at Jefferson Community & Technical College’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician program, also known as “FAME”, for the program’s sponsorship by the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education. Deborah is the Career/Success Coach for the Greater Louisville FAME Chapter. The Jefferson program has a lot to celebrate – its fourth cohort of graduates, corporate gifts, and a brand new building. The grand opening of the MIT (Advanced Manufacturing and Information Technology) Center, with the Mayor of Louisville to speak, has been postponed to October 27. That date is barring unforeseen developments in the Covid-19 crisis…
It is an interesting time in Advanced Manufacturing, an industry that has mobilized to help address many of the critical shortages in equipment the country is facing. According to an April 3rd article in Forbes, “It’s an all-hands – and robotic arms – on deck period in American history with manufacturers across the country leveraging technology to help combat COVID-19.” But, even an industry with newfound demand is not immune to the economic ramifications of the virus. A few students engaged in the apprentice-based FAME program were laid off due to plant shut-downs. Most students kept their jobs, but had legitimate worries about showing up to work and being exposed to the virus. Fortunately, none of the students or their family members have become sick. The apprentices have been on calls every week, with the program staff asking specific questions about whether their employers are supporting them and whether they are being asked to do anything contradictory to CDC guidelines.
Designated with EEQ Certification in April of 2020, Jefferson’s AMT program is one of several industry-led “KY FAME” programs－two-year (five semester) Associate Degree programs in which the college and the manufacturer work together closely to enhance student learning. Students earn a wage while attending college and gain work experience with global and local manufacturers. FAME AMT apprentices begin earning $12 to $13 per hour for their work at school and on the job (Minimum wage in Kentucky is $7.25 per hour.). As students progress and meet certain milestones (for instance, 500 hours of work/study), they see raises. With graduation, some of the Jefferson program participants saw their pay rise from $15 to $16 an hour to $25 and above (with one student hitting $31 an hour). Gerald’s graduates are excited, looking forward to the careers and lives lying ahead.
Gerald noted that while FAME has professional behaviors tied to the program, the work on Essential Employability Qualities and EEQ Certification has made a real difference. The work has galvanized the program to implement some new things – like an employer exit interview with feedback going directly to students to show them how they stack up in each of the different EEQs. “For a student to be able to show that they have attained soft skills is a big boost for remaining highly employable. Ultimately, those are the skills the industry wants.”
Gerald’s dedication to his students is obvious. He was inspired to move into higher education ten years ago, after a successful career in industry. (Gerald started as a Production Associate, then became an Industrial Electrician as he earned his degree in Engineering Technology, then served as Manager of Engineering Training for a plant with over 3,000 employees, and, later, was part of a team that developed a Corporate Apprenticeship program for all of the Goodyear plants.) He noted there was a real lack of support when he came up through the ranks. He is happy to report that things are different now – with employer sponsorship and the educational aspect of the FAME apprenticeship program. “Industry really sees the need for finding people who are skilled－and recognizes the gap nationwide,” he says.
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