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Advanced education through community college internships and pre-apprenticeships

When students who graduate from a local career and technical institute want additional training and career preparation, they often head to Lehigh Carbon Community College or Northampton Community College. Each college takes a similar yet different approach to the programs they offer, which get students out of the classroom and into the manufacturing world for hands-on experience.

LCCC’s Pre-Apprenticeship Approach

The Advanced Manufacturing Program begins with production technician training, which is done through a hybrid program that combines 200 hours of online learning and classroom time to reinforce basic theory, preventative maintenance and soft skills. Once the theory coursework is completed, students take a hands-on test at the main campus after they have worked with industry standard advance manufacturing equipment under the direction of a college instructor. 

From there students choose a program track, including industrial electrician technician, industrial automation technician, industrial mechanical technician, mechatronics, programmable logic controllers, and FANUC robotics. Program completion earns them a certificate which qualifies them for a variety of entry-level careers such as machine operators, production technician and mechatronics technician. 

Students then have the option of moving into the pre-apprenticeship program which is also a hybrid of 16 weekly classes and online coursework. Students learn electrical and mechanical fabrication, production assembly, preventative maintenance, basic math and measurement tools and communication skills, and receive OSHA 10 certification. LCCC partners with Mack Trucks and Ocean Spray for the onsite training that students receive.

“At LCCC we’re not just training recent high school graduates but also have people who are looking for a career change or are presently unemployed and looking to acquire new skill sets in order to help them find work,” explained Tom Bux, Director of Workforce Development at LCCC. “We work with manufacturers who send their employees here for further education and to learn new skill sets. We can even do customized training for employers who want to send several team members here to target specific skill areas.” 

Bux estimates that 25-30 percent of LCCC students in the Advanced Manufacturing Program either come to the field with no manufacturing background at all or are being upskilled to advance their career. Industrial automation is the top track for workers being upskilled.

“Pre-apprenticeship programs today focus on employees getting an outside education at a community college that is tied into the larger curriculum that provides them with the framework of what skills they need to learn,” Bux said. “And learning more skills leads to a different apprenticeship level, which leads to a bump in pay.”

The pre-apprenticeship program at LCCC has rolling entry so new students can start at any time. “Our program prepares you to be a lifelong learner, and that’s important because it’s something employers want to see in new hires,” said Bux. “With modern manufacturing you don’t just learn the job once and done. New technology means you have to keep learning on a regular basis to stay up to speed on the equipment you are using every day. And our teachers prepare workers who expect that learning to continue.”

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been supporting the growth of both pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs through programs launched a few years ago. PAsmart Pre-Apprenticeship Programs establish a connection to an existing apprenticeship program and deliver both hands-on and instructional-based learning which allow students to earn industry-recognized credentials, while providing manufacturers with pre-screened, ready-to-work employees who have been trained in the specific skilled they are hiring for. Such programs are also credited with reducing employee turnover rates by as much as 50 percent.

NCC’s Internship Approach

Kenneth Nasatka, Interim Director for the Center for Advanced and Industrial Technology, said that NCC offers internships at local manufacturers for its students. The internships, which are different than an apprenticeship, offer short-term temporary work experiences for a fixed period of time. If the student does well during the internship, they could be offered full-time or part-time employment with the manufacturer. 

“We have companies that offer internships primarily over the summer break, or they will work around the student’s schedule if their need is immediate,” explained Nasatka. “We also have companies coming to us with part-time or full-time employment opportunities. We find we have more employment opportunities than we have graduating students.”

NCC’s Applied Quality & Standards AAS, Construction Management AAS, Electromechanical Technology AAS, Electrical Technology AAS, and HVAC/R AAS programs have a 120-hour practicum requirement for graduation. Students are also required to complete a work shadowing experience that is related to their field of study, and they have to complete a daily log of experiences during the practicum, two research papers, and a presentation. 

The college has articulation agreements in place with local vocational technical schools, which allows some high school students to be eligible for college credits depending on what courses they completed while at the technical school. 

“We also have quite a few incumbents, as well as displaced workers, attending both our credit and noncredit courses,” said Nasatka. 

Northampton Community College offers local manufacturers the opportunity to present to respective students about what a career at their company would comprise and what positions they are currently looking to fill.  

All students are encouraged to do an internship if they are available because it gives them the opportunity to use the skills they learned in college in the workforce. Some students are not able to do an internship due to working a part-time or full-time job while attending college, or because of course load requirements for financial aid. 

“Students who complete a successful internship have an advantage over those who don’t, especially with the company they were interning with,” he explained. “The students add the internship experience on their resume, so it does give them an advantage when applying for employment. Currently, there are over 110 local companies that we know of that have hired graduates of the NCC Industry and Manufacturing Programs.”

Northampton Community College’s Industry and Manufacturing department offers eight Specialized Diplomas (two semesters), six certificate programs (three semesters) and nine Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) degrees (four semesters). Most of the Associate in Applied Sciences degrees are stackable, so the student could graduate with a Specialized Diploma and join the workforce.  If the student decides to return to NCC to complete his or her studies for the Certificate or Associate in Applied Sciences degree, they would start with the next semester coursework and not lose any credits. All of the Associate in Applied Sciences degrees allow the students to do internships. Five of the nine Associate in Applied Sciences degrees require a 120-hour internship to complete the practicum requirement.

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