Developing Concurrent Educational Opportunities for Advanced Manufacturing

Developing Concurrent Educational Opportunities for Advanced Manufacturing

Winner – Best Practices in Teaching Face-to-Face, Online, and Hybrid

Team Members

Julie Ranson – John Tyler, Chester
Les Bell – John Tyler, Chester
Dustin Bell – John Tyler, Chester
Melinda Miller – John Tyler, Chester


John Tyler Community College has created a partnership to ensure that a highly skilled manufacturing workforce is available in our region. Based on input from area employers and secondary school divisions in the College’s service region, John Tyler Community College piloted a two-year sequence of precision machining classes set aside for high school students to attend in fall of 2012. From the initial pilot with 7 participating students, the program now reaches 30 machining students from 6 school districts. Expansion of the concurrent model to welding in fall 2015 involves 15 students from 4 school districts. Through small class sizes, project based learning, guest speakers, and field trips, high school students are engaging in learning and workforce training the public schools and the students’ families could not begin to afford. The opportunity to earn high-end, industry-recognized credentials is an additional plus for the students. Graduates of the precision machining program have found high-paying employment with local manufacturers.

Public school partners continue to ask for additional seats and more varied program offerings for their students. These demands led to the building of a Welding concurrent program. We expect more schools and more programs to come on board in coming years.

JTCC has worked through the various kinks involved with working around public school scheduling and has found the efforts add value to the community. Students have had success; they have discovered that college is more than books and lectures; and they have learned about the many opportunities in STEM fields.

Connection to VCCS Mission & Complete 2021

This project addresses the VCCS mission and the five areas of the Complete 2021 vision in the following ways:

  • Elevating Virginia’s skilled workforce – Our concurrent precision machining program provides high school students with relevant industry skills and certifications that are required by local employers. The local demand for machinists and CNC operators continues and it is the seminal goal of this program to ensure that our industry partners have a highly skilled workforce pool.
  • Providing educational access for all Virginians – Offering this program to high school students in our service region means that many students gain a college education that their families had only dreamed about.
  • Reinventing the way community colleges help students succeed – Graduates of this program have encountered a level of success even we had not imagined. Some students have experienced high quality internships and employment at Rolls Royce, Progressive Engineering, Coesia, Jewett Machine, Innovative Machining and other advanced manufacturing firms. To date 16 students have graduated from the program. Two went on to four-year colleges; 7 returned to JTCC for additional classes; 6 are employed in a machinist position.
  • Connecting Virginia’s diverse educational opportunities – This innovative connection of high school students with high quality instructional practices and state of the art equipment is preparing a workforce to meet local needs.
  • Preserving affordable college access — Through partnerships with grantors and industry members, JTCC enables concurrent high school students to receive a tuition-free technical education. Industry partners pay for the cost of textbooks while grant funds are used to cover tuition and fees.

Applicability Across Disciplines, Units, & Institutions

The program could be replicated at other colleges either in precision machining or in another discipline. We began offering our American Welding Society (AWS) certified welding program as a concurrent program in fall 2015 following this same model. The secondary school systems now have two choices of concurrent programs that run on the same schedule allowing for more efficient use of school transportation and we achieve critical mass for course scheduling.

Any program that a college offers that requires expensive equipment that cannot be easily moved and/or is taught by instructors who are uniquely qualified and scarce would be a good candidate for this model. Industry certified programs are also good candidates for this model because the program certification process is vetted, rigorous and can be expensive to maintain. JTCC is also considering expanding the program to industrial electricity and industrial maintenance.

Creative Nature of Project & Connection to Educational Practices

Based on input from area employers and secondary school divisions in the John Tyler Community College (JTCC) service region, the Department of Industrial Technology piloted a two-year sequence of precision machining classes set aside for high school students to attend in fall of 2012. The pilot began with seven students from Amelia High School. After a successful first year, a second cohort of thirteen total students began in fall of 2013 drawing students from the counties of Amelia, Dinwiddie and Sussex. Through 2014 and 2015, we continued to expand the precision machining program that now enrolls 30 high school students.

The integration of project-based learning that includes exposure to state of the art advanced manufacturing equipment in each course is why the students benefit from traveling to the JTCC campus for the program. Small class sizes insure that students have the time with the instructors and with the equipment to develop strong technical skills. The square footage of the lab combined with the industry-relevant equipment, the industry-recognized program accreditation and the industry-revered instructors made the program cost prohibitive to duplicate at the secondary level.

During the two years of the program, the students are exposed to career pathways in advanced manufacturing. Each school system has a formal career pathway defined for these students that includes the college courses taken. All participants in the program take a focused SDV course that details the advanced manufacturing career options and the tools, such as the Virginia Wizard, that are available to help them attain their career goals.

The students are on campus three to four days each week depending on the school district’s schedule. They complete twenty-four college credits and earn a Career Studies Certificate in Basic Precision Machining by the end of the two-year program. Students are assessed through written exams and through the actual production of parts. The precision machining program at JTCC is accredited by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) and as such may award students NIMS level I credentials. The majority of the NIMS credentials are two-part: first a machined part must be produced to 100% accuracy. This is vetted by area industry partners. After the part is successfully completed, the student must pass a written exam to earn the credential. Two NIMS credentials are available to the second year students and one to the first year students. Thirty-one NIMS credentials have been awarded in the first three years of the JTCC Precision Machining Technology Concurrent High School program.

In addition to the industry recognized technical skills assessments from NIMS, completion of the two-year program results in a Career Studies Certificate (CSC) from JTCC in Basic Precision Machining and 9 of 17 credits completed toward a CSC in Computer Numerical Control. Completion also yields 25 of the 40 credits required for the Certificate in Precision Machining Technology. This certificate is the basis for many of the registered apprenticeships in this region. The first cohort of seven students graduated from JTCC in May 2014 with a CSC in Basic Precision Machining just ahead of receiving their high school diplomas. The second cohort graduated in May 2015.

Should the student decide to seek employment at this point, he/she is prepared for entry level positions as machinists, machine operators, and CNC machine operators. Completion of the program also gives the student preferred status for apprenticeship/associate team member positions with several area employers.

During the program, all students go on site visits to area manufacturers. Businesses and industries in the JTCC service region come to class to speak to the students about the multiple career opportunities available in the manufacturing cluster. Each spring JTCC sponsors a career fair for advanced manufacturing. Program participants are encouraged to speak with industry representatives about the careers available. Industries participating in the career fair review the students’ resumes and critique their interviewing skills. Part-time and summer internships have resulted from these interactions.

Because students completing the program have done coursework contained in the CSC in Computer Numerical Control and the certificate in Precision Machining Technology, it is a natural progression for the students to continue in one or both of these programs of study once they graduate from high school. High school seniors in the program are given information on how to change their student status once they graduate from high school and how to apply for scholarships to fund their continuing education at JTCC.

Completers interested in programs at other postsecondary institutions are informed of the advantages of articulation agreements, summer sessions at JTCC and the process for obtaining their JTCC transcripts. Many of the program participants are the first in their families to attend college. The experience of coming to campus and earning college credits alleviates much of the anxiety around taking the next step after high school. They have had success; they have discovered that college is more than books and lectures; and they have learned about the many opportunities in STEM fields.

Value Over Time

The Precision Machining Technology Concurrent High School program relies heavily on a partnership with the JTCC Precision Machining Technical Advisory Committee. This advisory committee is made up of twenty-five advanced manufacturing businesses and industries represented by active and knowledgeable participants. These members meet every six weeks to advise JTCC on hiring needs, skillsets required, soft-skills desired and curricula changes. Early on this committee supported the concept of bringing high school students onto campus for exposure to advanced manufacturing technology. Committee members had expressed concern over the pipeline of available talent in the advanced manufacturing arena. Many of their experienced employees were reaching retirement age; many of the members were experiencing growth. All were interested in seeing more individuals enter into advanced manufacturing careers.

The advisory committee reviewed and tweaked the selection of coursework that the high school students take during the two-year program. The committee members have allowed field trips to their production facilities for the students. They have come to the classroom to speak with the students concerning career paths available to students with these skill sets. Because high school students are not normally required to purchase their own textbooks, members of this committee have donated the textbooks for the students in the program. They participate in the spring career fair and coach the students on interviewing skills and resume preparation. Seventy percent of eligible, interested second year students have had part-time jobs/internships as a result of interactions with advisory committee members. Two students from the first cohort began internships with Rolls-Royce Crosspointe in February of their senior year and one was permanently hired into their apprenticeship program after he graduated from high school.

Each spring members of the advisory committee open their doors to tenth grade students who are considering applying for the concurrent program at JTCC. These prospective program participants come to JTCC and tour the advanced manufacturing labs at the Chester campus and then go to a local industry that has career opportunities for graduates of the program. Industry representatives take time to encourage the students to pursue careers in STEM fields and demonstrate the rewards available to program graduates.

The strong bonds that have been forged with advisory committees across each of our industrial technology programs will help JTCC maintain a quality concurrent enrollment program for high school students. With advisory committee support, we can assure our public school stakeholders that the College’s equipment is state of the art and instruction is relevant to local industry.