Jennifer Jones is well on her way to becoming a second generation machine operator thanks to a new program at Onondaga Community College. She spent 24 years in the healthcare industry providing comfort to people in the final years of their lives. The emotional toll of the job wore on her. As she was deciding she needed to do something else, Jones heard about a Machine Operator certificate program starting at the College. “I didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck any more. I wanted to have a career instead of a job. I was looking for a career and this is it.”
The first day of class was in September but months of behind-the-scenes work was needed before the teaching and learning would begin. The need for the program had been discussed for years. Employers were struggling to find qualified workers for entry level positions in advanced manufacturing.
Legislation funding the program was introduced by Assemblyman Al Stirpe (D-Cicero) and included in the 2014-15 New York State budget. OCC was also awarded a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program. That funding led to the enhancement of the College’s Workforce Development office. The College also received a $220,000 grant from JP Morgan Chase in support of workforce development. The generous support would mean all costs for students enrolled in the program would be covered including textbooks and tools.
Early in 2015 Workforce Development hosted a series of meetings with area employers, collecting the information students would need to learn. Designing the coursework based on employer recommendations is known as the DACUM process. DACUM stands for Developing a Curriculum. After a half-century of use it is widely accepted as the best methodology for creating competency-based and employer-driven training to build workforce capacity.
In August 2015 Workforce Development held “draft day” at SUNY EOC, also known as the Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center. Potential students, identified as either unemployed or underemployed were invited to participate. They were tested for their reading, math and employability skills and went through an interview process with community partners and potential employers.
When classes began the schedule was structured to closely mimic a work day. Students would arrive at 8 a.m., break for lunch and continue learning until 3 p.m. five days a week. In the program’s first month the 49-year-old Jones established herself as one of the top students and she’s getting some welcome help at home. Her father is a retired machine operator from Lipe Rollway who enjoys talking shop with his daughter every night. “When I tell him what I’m learning I get so excited and he sees how excited I am. He actually teaches me stuff at home. It’s been a great experience.”
Marty Sedlock brings more real-world experience to the class than any other student. He worked in biotechnology manufacturing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire before being downsized. Sedlock is 51-years-old and attended college much earlier in life. He earned an associate degree from Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts and also took classes at SUNY Oswego. “The class is interesting. It has my brain ticking again because I hadn’t been in school in a long time.” After completing the course and getting a job Sedlock plans to return to OCC. “I want to pursue a two-year degree. I need to figure out what I’m good at and which direction I should go in.”
Troy Jackson views the class as the opportunity of a lifetime. The 38-year-old father of five is focused on success for both himself and his family. “I want to show my children what I can do. It’s part of a progression in my life.” Jackson never graduated from high school but he did earn a GED. With his new found determination he’s been able to master the course work. “It feels really good to be focusing all of my energy on one thing. The crazy thing is that it’s not hard for me. Things may be a little bit confusing sometimes but there isn’t anything I can’t figure out.” Jackson’s goal is to pursue a two-year degree at OCC and eventually open his own manufacturing business.
The non-credit Machine Operator course is on track to conclude in December. The program includes a 100 hour internship which puts well-performing students on the path to employment. The median wage for machine operators is $36,000.
This program is a collaborative effort involving CenterState CEO, CNY Works, JOBSplus!, MACNY, OCC, OnPoint for College, SUNY EOC and Technology Development Organization, Inc.
OCC’s Manufacturing Machine Operator I program has been funded under a United States Department of Labor TAACCCT Grant whose purpose is to facilitate greater employment by improving workforce education.