With economic challenges facing the U.S., new technologies emerging at a rapid pace, and a significant portion of technicians about to retire, the need for an educated workforce has never been greater. The ATE Centers address all of these challenges, providing educational programs and resources that produce highly skilled employees in a wide variety of today’s emerging industries. And, each week, ATETV showcases examples of how community colleges, working hand-in-hand with industry, are leading the way in developing the educated workforce of tomorrow.

Becoming a Global Competitor

“We’re competing with the rest of the world, and particularly India and China, who have a lot of value in technical education,” explains Ian Shaw, a plant manager for plastic resin manufacturer Wellman, Inc. “We really have to reinvent ourselves, recreate the way we do business to stay competitive.”

ATE Centers, based at community colleges around the country, are a vital part of that reinvention, offering students two-year programs in the cutting-edge technologies that are becoming the cornerstone of today’s marketplace. With an emphasis on the development of hands-on skills, and using state-of-the-art equipment and materials, ATE programs have been carefully developed with industry in mind.

“The ATE program is an excellent strategic initiative that leverages the strengths of community colleges to provide STEM [science/technology/engineering/math] graduates,” notes Cathleen Barton, U.S. Education Manager for Intel Corporation. “It is an effective collaboration of industry, education and government that ensures U.S. technicians have the education and advanced technology skills necessary to fuel the knowledge economy of the 21st century.”

Meeting Manpower Needs

High school and college instructor and ATETV advisor Lane Warner estimates that between 50 and 60 percent of America’s technical workforce is currently eligible to retire. “These people have been holding on to these jobs for 30 years, and we haven’t been doing a very good job training the next wave to take their place.”

Through ATETV, you can see firsthand the many ways that ATE Centers are changing this, not only preparing students to step in to our country’s established industries, like manufacturing and the automotive industry, but also preparing students to meet the growing demands of a range of new industries, from biotechnology and environmental technologies to aerospace technology, and even national security.

Also key among the nation’s demands will be the need for skilled energy technicians. “As we start developing new energy technologies – solar, windmills, hydrogen, whatever the next wave of new energy technologies is going to be – we’re going to require people who are technical experts in these new energy fields,” notes Diane Auer Jones, former assistant secretary of education.

Industry Input Means A Comprehensive Curriculum

At the core of the ATE Centers’ success are their partnerships with industry.

At Stark State College, for example, their two-year associate’s degree program in fuel cell technology depends on industry input to keep current and up-to-date. “We are very tight with business, so we listen very closely to their needs,” explains Start State’s Dennis Trenger. “Our curriculum provides as broad a picture as we can paint right now because the field is constantly changing.”

Similarly, recognizing that for today’s industries to stay globally competitive they need people with skills that can get a product to market in a very short period of time, the ATE program at Saddleback College worked closely with industry to create a state-of-the-art curriculum in rapid manufacturing. “Many of today’s companies, particularly the Fortune 50s that are involved with [our school’s rapid tech program] are interested in bringing their high-end manufacturing design and tooling back from overseas,” says Saddleback’s Ken Patton. And in order to do that, they need skilled technicians, ready to produce from Day One.

Two of the ATE National Centers of Excellence are focused specifically on industry needs, one with a focus on comprehensive reform of technical education in fields that are key to the nation’s economic competitiveness, while a consortium of regional centers engage multiple community colleges and focus their efforts on academic initiatives that address the technical workforce needs of employers in specific regions of the country.

To learn more about how ATE can save employers time and money by delivering well-qualified technicians to the workforce visit www.atecenters.org.

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