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May 22, 2008
Center for Applied Competitive Technologies Wins Innovation Award
The College of the Canyons Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT) was recently named winner of the 2007-08 Exemplary Innovation Award by the California Community Colleges’ Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) program.
The EWD Exemplary Innovation Award recognizes excellent project development relating to entrepreneurship and innovation within the California Community College (CCC) system. Winners must demonstrate the development of a highly innovative and unique project, which is responsive to a specific and critical need within the business community and can be replicated at other sites across the state.
“There was an impressive list of nominees for this award, so we’re really very pleased that our program was chosen,” said Pete Bellas, director of the College of the Canyons CACT. “This kind of recognition will help bring about more industry partnerships and give us more opportunities to serve our students and the community.”
This year’s winning project, the FastTrack Manufacturing Boot Camp -- a collaboration among the College of the Canyons CACT, the Cerritos College CACT, El Proyecto del Barrio, Aerospace Dynamics International Inc. and other industry partners -- works to prepare at-risk youth, ages 18 to 21, for high-paying, upwardly laddered careers in manufacturing.
“It's an honor for COC to receive this award,” said Dr. Bruce Getzan, COC dean of economic development. “Pete has done a tremendous job working with a variety of partners, with a program that helps area employers, turns around the lives of at-risk students and enhances economic development in the region.”
Developed in response to the needs of the north Los Angeles County manufacturing industry that were finding it increasingly difficult to fill entry level positions, including Computer Numerical Control (CNC) operations and setup technicians, the FastTrack Manufacturing Boot Camp program was originally started as a pilot program in 2004.
“Manufacturers were telling us that they couldn’t wait for students to complete a traditional two-year manufacturing technology program. They needed people right away,” said Bellas. “They basically said, ‘If you can just bring them in with the basic skills, we can train them further on the job.’ So that’s when we started this program.”
Since its inception, the partnership has operated 10 FastTrack Boot Camps, graduating roughly 90 students from the program -- with a 92 percent career field employment rate among graduates. In addition, 35 percent of graduates go on to enroll in college level credit bearing manufacturing technology programs at COC, with 20 percent of graduates subsequently participating in employer contracted education classes.
“It’s been a tremendously popular program because the students obtain jobs,” said Bellas. “We’ve even had a company hire an entire graduating class.”
Operating as part of a network of such centers throughout the state, the College of the Canyons CACT provides workforce training programs, demonstration of new manufacturing equipment and technologies and access to state and local resources in order to help local industry achieve greater operational efficiencies, enhanced productivity and increased organizational performance.
“One of the biggest issues facing manufacturing is attracting new people to the industry,” Bellas said. “We’ve been very good at working with people who are already in the industry and upgrading their skills levels and helping them move into higher positions, but we’ve struggled to attract new talent. So this program is really giving the industry that extra push to be able to go out and recruit.”
The intensive FastTrack Manufacturing program provides students with the skills necessary to be hired in entry-level manufacturing technician roles. Initial training includes a 40-hour employability skills class focusing on basic math and English skills facilitated by Cerritos College.
After it’s determined that students have the basic skills to continue in the program, they enter a 140-hour technical skills “boot camp” covering general manufacturing and CNC skills taught by COC faculty at the college’s Manufacturing Education Center, in space provided by Aerospace Dynamics International, Inc. (ADI).
The manufacturing portion of the program is intense, with students attending class seven hours a day, three days a week for roughly seven weeks. Coursework includes blueprint reading, shop math and trigonometry and precision measurement along with CNC setup, operations and programming and hours of hands on practice using industrial sized equipment to work with aircraft aluminum and titanium donated by ADI. In addition, all classroom work is augmented by a series of online training exercises provided by Tooling University -- a leading provider of online manufacturing training.
“The training includes a little bit of everything so that students can become familiar with the myriad of activities that go on in a manufacturing environment,” said Stanley Jacobson, COC manufacturing technology faculty member. “They won't have production experience, but by the time they complete the program they will have done about 100 hours of hands-on training working in teams with this industrial equipment.”
Another aspect of the program is the growing number of partners who have helped enhance the program’s reach into the community. The COC Career Center and the county workforce investment board through Goodwill Industries have both partnered with the FastTrack program to help students create resumes and develop interview skills to use after graduation. The Career Center also coordinates presentations to students from local industry about opportunities in specific manufacturing fields, and organizes an end-of-program interview day where potential employers come to the campus to interview graduating students.
“There are so many job openings in the Santa Clarita Valley in aerospace and other related manufacturing fields that these students can have great careers eventually making 50 thousand dollars a year or more, in a job that has a really valuable skill set,” said Bellas. “That’s where we want to get them to.”
Another rewarding aspect of the FastTrack Boot Camp is in its mission to provide assistance to the at-risk youth the program specifically targets. Typically facing barriers to employment, including the lack of a high school diploma or previous trouble with the law, after completing the program students often return with inspirational stories of success.
“The students are tremendous to work with, because for the vast majority of them this is the first time anyone has given then an opportunity,” said Bellas, pointing to the testimonial of one recent graduate who credits the program for helping turn his life around.
“This training changed my life. It made me change my ways and it made me believe anything is possible. I’ll never go back to the way things were for me in the streets,” said Bryant Arevello, a 2007 graduate of the FastTrack program. “I never dreamed I would be working in a great place for an aerospace company, but suddenly it became a reality.”
“It doesn’t take many of those stories to make all your efforts worthwhile,” Bellas said.
The future of the FastTrack Manufacturing program also looks bright with the COC CACT already discussing the possibility of using the same FastTrack techniques to train entry level candidates in other manufacturing fields — including precision medical assembly and electromechanical diagnostics and repair.
“It’s been a really exciting program,” Bellas said. “What I’m most proud of is the way all the partners work together. It’s not always easy to get everybody to work toward the same goal, but once it does work and everybody sees it, then it really allows you to build upon the program.”
The next FastTrack Manufacturing Boot Camp is scheduled to begin in July. For more information about the program or how to register please contact the College of the Canyons CACT at (661) 294-9809.