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Local industries, federal grant to equip lab at OTC
Addresses the demand for maintenance technicians
John Holt of Technical Training Aids, center, discusses some aspects of the new Ogeechee Technical College industrial maintenance program lab with Briggs & Stratton Human Resources Manager Amanda See after Wednesday's announcement of a grant for a new training system so students can learn technical support and maintenance of manufacturing equipment in multiple industries. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Ogeechee Technical College will work with area industries, two development authorities and a federal grant to equip a lab for industrial maintenance courses at a cost of almost $420,000, officials announced Wednesday.

"Industrial maintenance has been identified as an area of critical need for our local industries," said OTC President Dr. Dawn Cartee. "Having employees who can maintain the equipment used in the manufacturing process is vital to the continued success of our industries."

The grant, from the Economic Development Administration, will supply about $210,000, matched by funds raised by the college. Four industries with plants in Bulloch or Screven counties - Briggs & Stratton, Brodie International, Koyo Bearings of North America and Viracon - are contributing, as are the Development Authority of Bulloch County, the Screven County Development Authority and the Ogeechee Technical College Foundation.

The exact funding total, stated in a fact sheet from Ogeechee Tech, is $419,523.

"Thank you to all who are investing in this program," Cartee said. "This is literally putting your money where your mouth is to make sure that the economic engine, and that is our local industry, doesn't fail because of a lack of commitment on the part of industries themselves."

Representatives of the industries, the development authorities and the company that produces the training equipment, as well as state legislators, local education officials, OTC faculty and a staff member for U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., attended the announcement.

"You hear a lot about public-private partnerships; it's almost like a buzzword in economic development and higher education," said Lori Durden, the college's vice president for economic development. "But these partnerships are essential to us here at the college. ...This is a great example."

Some of the students are expected to be industries' new hires or people already on the job. The training system, being purchased from Amatrol, an Indiana-based company, includes computer-based testing to determine which skills students need to learn or improve. Students will typically work through online lessons first before applying them at hands-on trainers.

The trainers are work boards outfitted with tools, test equipment and parts that students assemble, test and adjust as they apply their skills. Two examples of Amatrol trainers, one for vibration analysis and another for basic electrical systems, were displayed in Ogeechee Tech's main lobby during the announcement.

Benjy Thompson, the CEO of the Development Authority of Bulloch County, said he felt he was also speaking for the development authorities in Screven and Evans counties and other development professionals in the area.

"This program is critical to the Development Authority of Bulloch County and our colleagues because existing industry provides the foundation of our missions, that is to help businesses create jobs and bring capital investment to our communities," Thompson said.

Bobby Jones, a process line manager in Koyo's plant in Screven County, spoke as chairman of the Industry Group, made up of more than 15 industries in Bulloch, Screven and some other neighboring counties. Koyo, a Japanese-owned bearing manufacturer, employs more than 400 people at the Sylvania plant.

While industries continue to enhance their equipment and technology to maintain growth, many skilled workers such as maintenance technicians have been with their companies a long time, Jones said.

"They are aging, they are reaching retirement, so the replacement pool, those skilled work sets, work readiness, is of significant importance to us," Jones said. "Today, with this announcement, we are excited that it allows us a step further in that preparation."

Often finding that young people are unaware of the quality of jobs available, the Industry Group also seeks to bring high school students information on manufacturing careers, Jones said. Hourly wages in the $18 to $25 range are typical for industrial maintenance technicians in the area, he said in an interview.

A shortage of these maintenance people has been a key concern of the group for several years. Kathleen Kosmoski, Ogeechee Tech's director for continuing education and industry training, said that in meetings she has attended, all of the industries have expressed the need for maintenance techs.

The college is talking to other industries, beyond those now helping match the grant, for help in obtaining additional equipment, she said.

"There are some more pieces that we want to get to help with our industries so that as they continue to grow, we're continuing to grow the program, so we're going to need additional funds to help with the growth process." Kosmoski said.

Ultimately, the industrial maintenance lab will go into a space designed for that purpose in the new OTC Natural Resources Building, for which groundwork has now begun at the main campus south of Statesboro. After a groundbreaking ceremony last November, construction was delayed for several months. The building is now expected to take a year or longer to complete.

In the meantime, the industrial maintenance training system will be installed at Ogeechee Tech's Screven County Workforce Development Center in Sylvania.

"We want it up and running," Cartee said after the announcement.

With a six-month time frame for purchase and delivery of the equipment, officials hope to have the lab operating at the Sylvania site by April or May. The computer-based elements may be ready sooner in the new year, Kosmoski said.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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