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FRCC gets grant to create automation degree

National Science Foundation award will help fund degrees, certificates in automation, technology

Andrew Barney operates a CNC machine during a tour of the Advanced Technology Center at Front Range Community College in 2017. Front Range and Advanced Energy on Wednesday announced the creation of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing in Longmont, which will offer four degree programs.
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Front Range Community College in Longmont will use half-million dollar grant to create a manufacturing program that will help fill a statewide labor shortage.

The $494,777 Advanced Technological Education grant from the National Science Foundation will help fund an associate’s degree in automation and engineering technology, along with three certificates in industrial automation and maintenance.

The new program will be housed at the Center for Integrated Manufacturing, a new center expected to open in August that FRCC spent $6.2 million on to expand training for the manufacturing industry.

Ken Floyd, a faculty member and the principal investigator on the NSF grant, said there is a “skills gap” in Colorado.

“Local manufacturers have told us that they just can’t find these skilled workers that they need to expand and grow their businesses,” Floyd said.

According to him, there are 500,000 open manufacturing jobs in the state right now, and that’s estimated to grow to 2 to 3 million openings over the next five years.

Tolmar, Inc., a pharmaceutical manufacturing company in northern Colorado, has grown from 134 employees to more than 750, and currently has 30 open manufacturing positions, said Sylvia Robinson, the HR program manager.

To help fill that gap, Floyd said FRCC staff began meeting with more than 30 industry representatives over the past three years to find out what training people needed for those jobs. The most in-demand areas included automation technology, electronics and machining.

The NSF grant will allow FRCC to incorporate process technology training equipment into students’ classes, Floyd said. The hope is that students earning this associate’s degree will spend 70% of their time doing hands-on work.

Process technology is involved in any technology that has fluid running through it and is controlled in an automated way. It is used in pharmaceuticals, food and beverage and water quality industries, among others.

Floyd said students who go through this program will be able to get work as an automation technician, among other positions, and can expect to make about $19 to $25 per hour. Floyd wants people to know the modern factory is very different from what people might picture.

“We’re trying to change the perception of manufacturing jobs,” he said. “They’re not the old school, dirty, kinda grimy jobs that people have in mind. They’re highly automated and require high technical skills.”

This is the only program of its kind in Boulder County, Floyd said. Faculty hopes to design the program so students can get “real job skills” in nine months, and then continue their education while working part-time.

Robinson, who also served on the manufacturing steering committee for FRCC, said the new center will be important for raising awareness about manufacturing career opportunities, and will create a “talent pipeline” for local companies. It also will provide training for those who want to improve their skills or make a career change.

Robinson also used her position in the NOCO Manufacturing Partnership Talent Rocks! Committee to promote the new center to local employers.

“Tolmar will be opening our doors to help recruit students for the CIM and to build relationships toward expanding our future talent pool with their graduates,” she said, adding she’s also excited for the center to work with the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Career Development Center, which is starting an advanced manufacturing pathway in the fall.

“It is encouraging to see two reputable educational programs work together to produce future- and workforce-ready students,” she said.

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