Matching the education students receive to the needs of business and industry has become something of a buzzword recently, from local school boards to congressional committees. But for Ogeechee Technical College and other technical schools, the idea is certainly not new.
One of Ogeechee Tech's ongoing efforts at fulfilling the needs of industry involves creating an industrial maintenance program.
"We offer programs of study that lead to a job," said OTC Vice President for Economic Development Lori Durden. "We've always monitored job placement rates of our students and we've always worked with private industry to ensure that our programs are relevant, and now the university system is starting to do the same thing, and we all have to."
Durden, who in 2013 began a seven-year term on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, has a unique perspective on Georgia's two systems of public higher education. She is the only Technical College System of Georgia employee who serves on the governing board of the separate University System.
About that monitoring of job placement: The most recent data show that about 98 percent of Ogeechee Technical College graduates are either placed in jobs, continuing their education, or entering the military. About 94 percent get a job in the field they studied at OTC, according to a query answered by Dr. Ryan Foley, the college's vice president for student affairs.
Recently when the Statesboro Area Society for Human Resource Management hosted a "State of Employment in Bulloch County" panel, members described certain technical jobs as their hardest to fill. But the human resources professionals, including those from Georgia Southern University, named Ogeechee Tech as the place they steer job seekers who need additional skills or certifications.
One job type that produces especially hard-to-fill vacancies is industrial maintenance, Briggs & Stratton and Viracon human resources managers said. Ogeechee Tech does not have an industrial maintenance program, but has been working with industries in its service area - Bulloch, Evans and Screven counties - to develop one.
In fact, the college formed a task force with local industries and development authorities several years ago to address their training needs. Briggs & Stratton, Viracon, Great Dane, Koyo, King America Finishing and other industries have taken part in meetings with representatives of the college, and the need for an industrial maintenance program has been the recurring theme, Durden said.
Despite the impression the word "maintenance" may give, industrial maintenance technicians are highly skilled personnel who need mechanical and other aptitudes to repair and maintain manufacturing equipment.
"These individuals also need to be cross-trained," Durden said. "They need to know not just electrical components but mechanical, hydraulics, maybe even a little welding."
OTC officials have set aside space for an industrial lab inside the planned Natural Resources Building. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November, but actual construction has yet to begin on the building, slated to be in use spring semester 2016.
Equipment for the industrial lab will be expensive, so the college is pursuing grants, Durden said. Word is expected soon on an Economic Development Administration grant. Ogeechee Tech is also partnering with Georgia Southern University and the Development Authority of Bulloch County to apply later this month for funding through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
The lab, with industrial maintenance instructors, would be a place industries could send current employees to sharpen their skills or add new ones. The program could also grow into a certificate track whose graduates would form a pool of potential future technicians for industry, Durden said. She noted that industries have offered to provide matching funds for the grants.
"The industries see the value in this project and are willing to help fund it to help it become a reality, should the grant be received," she said.
Meanwhile, Ogeechee Technical College has wrapped up work toward accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC.
The U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database, at http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/, shows Ogeechee Tech in "pre-accredited" status with SACSCOC since Dec. 9. The SACSCOC Board of Trustees is slated to vote in June.
Ogeechee Tech has been accredited since 1992 by the Council on Occupational Education, which accredits technical colleges nationwide. But SACS accreditation, specifically by the Commission on Colleges, is the regional accreditation held by Georgia Southern University and other southeastern universities and academic colleges, as well as by some technical colleges, such as Savannah Tech.
When GSU President Brooks Keel spoke last week to the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the U.S. House of Representatives, he mentioned the university's articulation agreements with Savannah Tech. These agreements allow students who complete certain Savannah Tech programs to continue toward four-year degrees at Georgia Southern.
The university is also working toward articulation agreements with Ogeechee Tech, but these can only take effect when the technical college has SACSCOC accreditation.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.