SURGOINSVILLE — Here’s a promise that no four-year college or university can make.
If you complete a 12-16 month certificated course at one of the region’s Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses, there’s almost a 100 percent chance you’ll get a job in your chosen field when you graduate.
TCAT President Jerry Young told the Times News last week that placement with business and industry at all of the TCAT locations is hovering between 97 and 98 percent.
“If you graduate one of our programs, you’ve got a 97-98 percent chance you’re going to work for one of the industries in the area,” Young said.
TCATs also have a 77 percent graduation rate, and students leave with zero debt.
“You graduate, they go to work, and they don’t owe any student loans,” Young said.
TCATs also play a major role in helping recruit new industries to the region.
RMC Advanced Technologies CEO Denis Bertrand said last year one of the reasons he chose Hawkins County’s Phipps Bend Industrial Park for his new plant was the fact that there’s a TCAT campus with a robotics program in the same industrial park.
The Times News recently sat down with Young to discuss current trends in technical education in the region.
How does the TCAT system work with existing industries to keep their workforces trained?
For 50 years, TCATS have been tied very closely to business and industry. The programs that we deliver, the welding program, industrial maintenance, industrial electricity, machine tool technology, HVAC, heating and cooling repair, auto repair, collision repair — these are programs that industry has made successful for the TCATs. We maintain advisory boards for members of all those various industries. We get feedback from them. What are the trends? What are the things we need to be doing to make you successful? I think that’s what’s driven the industrial growth in this region, which has also created the problem that they need more high skilled, highly trained workers.
How did the Phipps Bend TCAT influence RMC’s decision to locate a plant to Hawkins County?
RMC came in and looked at the programs we were delivering here at Phipps Bend. They saw our industrial maintenance, our industrial electrical program, and they knew that level of maintenance technology, that level of robotics PLCs (programmable logic controllers), they knew those were going to be things they were going to need when they opened their manufacturing plant. We have already laid some basic groundwork with RMC on what kind of training we can deliver to help make their company successful.
Can you mold your instructional programs into the specific types of training that individual plants are looking for?
Yes, we can. A recent example was a company that moved into the main (Morristown) campus’ service area, Oshkosh Defense. Within six weeks of them being in our service area, we set up a welding curriculum and delivered a welding course. We have trained 60 welders, and they have a 100 percent pass rate on the defense department’s metal weld test. And we did that in as little as eight weeks.
With technology changing so quickly, are TCATs able to keep up with the times and keep courses modern?
We had an interesting example of that recently when there was a change in the National Electric Code. The old GFCI breakers in industry are going to be replaced with a new type of safety breaker. Industry contacted us, and within 72 hours we had a six-hour training program set up so that they could start sending their electricians to be retrained on what the new safety breakers were going to be like. We work very close with industry. Industry here at Phipps Bend will contact us, and we can set up something as simple as a forklift training program or something as advanced as a PLC robotic mechatronics program.
Can you think of any other examples of how the TCAT played a major role in the recruitment of new industries locating in this area?
Oshkosh Defense said we were one of the primary reasons they put a plant here in this area. We also have a Belgian bus company that will be their first manufacturing plant in the Hamblen County area, and they cited us as one of the main reasons that they located in this area, because of the training that the TCATs could deliver.
How often do you evaluate your programs compared to the needs of local industry?
We meet about twice a year to look at our curriculum. Are they meeting the standards of business and industry? Do we need to correct them? Do we need to make a shift in them? And then all that information comes to us from business and industry.
Tell me why TCAT is a good place for young adults to begin their professional careers, as opposed to college or university?
We’ve got to change the mindset that you’ve got to pick one or the other. I’m proud to say that both of my children attended a TCAT, a community college, and then a state university. They’re both very successful, and they both will tell you that everything they learned at each one of those educational institutions has been beneficial towards what they do now. Ideally you go to a TCAT and acquire skilled training and come out with a guarantee of a really good job. Then you finish up and go on and expand your knowledge with a community college, and maybe then on into a university. Or you stay where you’re at. But I think we need to get away from the idea that you pick one or another because they can each be useful as you progress throughout your professional life. Technical training isn’t always the final destination, but it will put you in a great position to be able to evaluate where you want to go next.
Talk about the importance of dual enrollment programs for high school students.
In Hawkins County, we have dual enrollment programs at Volunteer, Cherokee and Clinch; and in Morristown we have dual enrollment at seven high schools in our service area. We’re expanding that even farther to engage those young people before they graduate, and they’re not sure what they’re going to do. Maybe bring them here and let them do the industrial electricity program, and they may decide, “I really like this. I believe I’m going to come back and finish after high school.”
Does dual enrollment set up recent high school graduates to step into good jobs?
A welding certificate takes one year, or 1,296 hours, to be a combination welder. But some of our dual enrollment students can earn up to 400 hours in high school. They have effectively reduced their training time by one full trimester. I’ll give you a great example: We had a dual-enrolled student in our welding program who graduated (high school), not last May but the May before, and he didn’t wait until September. He enrolled in June, and by the end of the year he had completed his welding training, and he’s now working in Kingsport making $22 per hour, not even out of high school for six months. That’s where dual enrollment can really impact those students.
How much does it cost to complete a TCAT course?
If you’re paying out of pocket, most classes you’d be looking at $4,000 to $5,000 to complete the entire training program. But with Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect, I think with what Gov. Lee is fixing to do, about 85-88 percent of our students are attending school at no cost.
For a high school student interested in a lucrative career, which TCAT program would you recommend?
I’m thinking about when I retire I’m either going to take machine tool technology or aviation mechanics. Those are two great programs. I would steer my grandson into either one of those. There are great jobs in HVAC. It would be hard for me to say. I think I would advise them to come in and talk to us. Look at our programs. See what you think you want to do. There is a tremendous amount of money out there to be made as a welder, an electrician, industrial electrician, but I think the machine tool program is one of my favorites.