Serving as Georgia’s top resource in preparing a skilled workforce, institutions within the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) provide training in more than 600 associate degree, diploma, and certificate programs.
TCSG institutions work with local industries to provide a viable workforce and training solutions. Whether it is through the nationally recognized Quick Start program or individualized programs, TCSG institutions help Georgia remain a competitive leader in a global market.
In an effort to recruit more workers to high-demand jobs, the state provides the HOPE Career Grant, which was formerly the Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant.
The HOPE Career Grant is available to qualified students who enroll in selected majors that are aligned with one of 12 industries in which there are more jobs available than there are skilled workers to fill them.
The high-demand industries include certified engineer assistant, commercial truck driving, computer programming, computer technology, diesel equipment technology, early childhood care and education, health science, industrial maintenance, movie production and set design, practical nursing, precision manufacturing, and welding and joining technology.
TCSG institutions offer more than 200 programs associated with the high-demand careers.
“A Georgia student who qualifies for one of these grants pays absolutely no tuition, and in some cases, the grants cover fees and equipment as well,” said TCSG Commissioner Gretchen Corbin. “This is a great opportunity for students in our 22 colleges and the Georgia companies who seek them. We believe the new name will help students understand that a rewarding career is the end goal of the grant.”
Michael Williams, assistant dean of Academic Affairs at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, said there is a growing need for more diesel mechanics.
“Diesel is a growing field all over our service region,” Williams said. “Transportation is booming in Georgia, and service managers have hit a wall with employment. Many mechanics are nearing retirement age. More than almost any other field, I feel this area has the potential for explosive growth over the next decade.”
Currently, Wiregrass Tech only teaches the diesel mechanic program at its Coffee County campus but plans to expand the program to other Wiregrass Tech campuses.
This year, Wiregrass Tech partnered with TransPower to teach the Diesel Truck Maintenance Technician Certificate program at the company’s Douglas location.
“We started this in January, and the first cohort of students will graduate this fall,” Williams said, “and at least two of them have already signed up with registered apprenticeships in Coffee County.”
Williams explained that offering a course at an industry facility allows Wiregrass Tech to start a program without the expense of constructing a building on campus and purchasing a lot of equipment.
Regarding the TransPower partnership, Williams said, “It saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars and allowed us to start the program much earlier than we would have been able to otherwise.”
Exposing students to new career options is an important part in filling high-demand jobs.
“Students know about welding, but they might not know what jobs are available as a machinist,” Williams said. “Machine tool is another area where current employees are reaching retirement age. There is a lot more being done by computers today, and we are on the cutting edge of that, but there is still significant demand for manual machining, and that’s not going away. We teach both at Wiregrass Tech.”
By offering more technical classes at the high school level, Wiregrass Tech is introducing students to many technical program options.
Williams said industrial systems technology is another high-demand career area that is growing in popularity.
“Industrial system jobs are the backbone of manufacturing in the U.S.,” he said. “These are the workers that run the robots that do the manufacturing, but most students don’t know what the job involves.”
As more manufacturing jobs become automated, there is a growing need for industrial maintenance technicians.
“These guys design, program, and repair the highly automated manufacturing systems used in almost any type of industry you can imagine,” Williams said. “One of the most important things they do is design and repair PLCs (programmable logic controllers) that run assembly lines, robots, and complex machinery in our industries today.”
Mechatronics—the combining of mechanical engineering and electronics—is also a popular field within industrial systems, especially for high school students.
Wiregrass Tech is currently offering basic technical certificates at Brooks County, Valdosta, and Irwin County high schools that include mechatronics classes.
“We are running six classes of mechatronics a day,” Williams said. “We have made some huge equipment investments totaling nearly $1 million in that area. These students study electrical systems, PLCs, fluid power, pneumatics, robotics, etc., on trainers that mimic the automation you would see in an industrial environment.”
Williams said welding still represents the largest enrollment, especially within the HOPE Career Grant high-demand areas.
“While there are a growing number of new specialized career fields, welding is still the most popular,” he said. “We teach welding on every campus and in the high schools. Many students are finding welding jobs before they graduate.”
Keeping the curriculum within industry standards is an important part of the TCSG training success.
“We ask our manufacturers and industry leaders to tell us what they need us to incorporate into the curriculum,” Williams said. “Each college has an advisory committee that guides them in making changes to the curriculum and helping the schools stay current on industry changes.”
Spending time with business and industry representatives is an important part of Dr. Tina Anderson’s responsibilities. As president of Wiregrass Tech, Anderson provides leadership to an 11-county region, with campuses in Ben Hill-Irwin, Coffee, Cook, and Lowndes counties.
During one of her regularly scheduled “Talks with Tina,” she emphasized that the dual responsibility of Wiregrass Tech — and all TCSG institutions — is to graduate students that have the technical skills to immediately begin working in their chosen career field and meet the workforce needs of local businesses and industries.
“We are here to meet the needs of employers in our region,” said Anderson. “It is our job to make sure that we are training our students, so they are prepared to work and succeed.”
Anderson cited a recent example of a local industry that needed their truck drivers to have forklift training.
“They were hiring our truck driving graduates but then had to train them on how to operate a forklift,” Anderson explained. “The drivers were expected to load and unload their trucks.”
Anderson said it was a simple fix and now commercial truck driving graduates from Wiregrass Tech have forklift training.
“Certainly anything our business and industry tell us they need, we are going to try and make it work,” Anderson said. “If it is a sustainable need, we want to provide that for our local industries.”
When Steeda opened its Valdosta manufacturing facility in 2008, company leaders turned to Wiregrass Tech for assistance in hiring primarily welders and machinists.
“There was a lot of value in us locating in Valdosta—not only the tax incentives but having a technical college was a plus,” said Scott Boda, Valdosta plant manager for Steeda. “Wiregrass Tech teaches the same software that we use in the machine shop, and they have the welding classes.”
Steeda has produced parts for industry leaders such as Ford, Roush, Summit Racing, and Ford Racing. The Valdosta facility is located on 25 acres, with space available for expansion.
Because specific skill sets are required for Steeda’s production line, Boda said he was able to work directly with Wiregrass Tech instructors to find the correct match.
“Wiregrass teaches mostly industrial welding,” Boda said. “Our welding is only MIG (metal inert gas) and TIG (tungsten inert gas), which means it needs to hold together but also be aesthetically pleasing. We are producing parts that need to look good as well as function.”
The partnership with Wiregrass Tech allows Steeda to remain competitive in hiring highly skilled workers that meet overall industry standards, as well as the company’s specific skill sets.
“It is great working with Wiregrass,” said Boda. “I can talk to the instructor directly to get their recommendations for hiring. About 60 percent of our employees come to us from Wiregrass.”
In Thomas County, Flowers Baking Company partnered with Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC), to develop a Manufacturing Specialist Technical Certificate of Credit program to meet workforce needs.
Dennis Lee, vice president for Economic Development at SRTC, said the partnership with Flowers Baking Company included the development of curriculum that would teach the skills needed to meet requirements for manufacturing maintenance specialist positions within the company.
“Flowers Bakery interviewed the students enrolled in the program for the possibility of hiring students to work part-time while they attended the college,” Lee said. “This program has been very successful.”
SRTC serves Colquitt, Grady, Mitchell, Tift, Thomas, Turner, and Worth counties and offers more than 150 degree, diploma and certificate programs including those covered by the HOPE Career Grant.
“Many of the traditional trade and industrial programs that Southern Regional Technical College continues to offer, such as welding, which has significant enrollment, are covered by the HOPE Career Grant,” said SRTC President Craig Wentworth. “These programs of study, in addition to various other technical programs, such as industrial systems technology and basic mechatronics technician, just to name a couple, still serve as a major educational and training mechanism of skilled personnel for business and industry, particularly within the manufacturing sector in Georgia.”
Wentworth explained that the HOPE Career Grant covers a large part of the student’s cost of attending a technical college in Georgia.
“This should relieve a good bit of the financial pressure on students and facilitate their interest and subsequent enrollment into these high-demand programs of study,” Wentworth said. “The combination of the HOPE Career Grant financial assistance, business and industry support, and prevalence of jobs in trade, technical, and industrial career fields has been a positive means of garnering greater interest and attention to our college.”
Founded in 1967, Hurst Boiler and Welding has been a leader in the manufacturing of gas, oil, coal, wood, biomass, and hybrid fuel-fired steam and hot water boiler systems. With several multi-million dollar expansions completed, Hurst Boiler and Welding has relied on SRTC to supply a highly trained workforce.
“Over the years we have hired a lot of welders from SRTC and now are beginning to hire more electrical programmers,” said Jeff Hurst, director of marketing with Hurst Boiler and Welding. “As more units are controlled through the internet, we need more electrical engineers than we did in the past.”
In Thomas County the demand for welders is high. In addition to Hurst Boiler and Welding, Cives Steel Company and Cleaver-Brooks all have multiple welding positions.
“There is a constant demand for welders, but younger workers are now looking for jobs with computers,” Hurst said. “In Thomas County, welders are in high demand, and we are able to hire, but it’s getting harder.”
Engineering and drafting are two other areas that Hurst Boiler and Welding relies on SRTC to provide trained employees.
“Most of our workers have been with the company since the 1980s,” Hurst said, “but as technology changes, we see the need for different skills, especially in technology.”
Hurst said having SRTC in the community helps not only with current workforce issues but also future demands.