Donald Acker has much praise for Itawamba Community College and its Workforce Development Center at Belden.
Acker is an environmental specialist at Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi (a supplier to Toyota), and APMM has often asked ICC to develop training programs for new and established APMM employees.
“ICC has customized courses such as OSHA regulations, Excel spreadsheet training and CPR classes, and even helped us with our ISO certification training,” Acker says. “I use an adjective like 'awesome' whenever I talk about programs offered by ICC.”
ICC's Workforce Development Center at Belden is a 250,000-square-foot facility that provides training to anyone from new employees to those seeking advanced degrees. Programs include electrical technology, industrial maintenance technology, EMT certification, truck driving, welding and HVAC repair. Future plans include establishing a precision machining curriculum.
“We help 60 to 80 companies each year and significantly impact economic development and business retention in Tupelo/Lee County,” says Lee Oswalt, Itawamba Community College workforce development and training director.
Another company that ICC has assisted is GRAMMER AG, a German-based auto parts manufacturer that recently transferred its North American operations from Wisconsin to Tupelo. ICC developed a four-week customized training program for all new hires, and ultimately did much more.
“Their company had a delay in opening their plant, so we constructed a customized production line at our Belden facility that GRAMMER used for two months until their building was ready,” Oswalt says. “GRAMMER made salable products and ran their operation from ICC until their new building got up to speed.”
Oswalt says several other manufacturers have used ICC training services.
“For example, Toyota partners with ICC for classroom training and then students intern at the plant,” she says. “It's a five-semester course where students attend ICC for advanced industrial maintenance classes three days a week, and they work at Toyota the other two days for about $16 an hour. That's pretty good if you're 19 or 20 years old, going to school and earning that kind of money.”
Introducing Industry to K-12
The Community Development Foundation also partners with ICC to inform companies about the training opportunities the college offers, and CDF also backs several workforce development programs in the K-12 public school system.
“One program is Mississippi Scholars, that is presented to every eighth-grader to encourage them to take more rigorous courses in high school, and another initiative is Industry Education Day that we have backed for about 40 years,” says Gina Black, CDF economic development project manager. “Industry Education Day is a four-hour session that brings together all teachers to take tours of local industries, where they learn what job skills are needed in Tupelo and Lee County.”
Another CDF workforce development program is Manufacturing Camp, open to 20 middle school students each year who learn about milling, lathing, drilling, welding, painting and using power tools.
“We also launched a new career expo endeavor to every eighth-grader called Imagine the Possibilities,” Black says. “It's not like a regular career expo with booths; the kids participate in actual hands-on activities so they are at least introduced to the many interesting aspects of what modern manufacturing and industry is all about.”