OGDEN -- Eight years ago, instructors at Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College were looking to solve a problem in the machinist program.
"It was the training materials," said instructor Jeff Fowler, who teaches with machinist team member Bret Holmes. "The materials were amazingly outdated. The textbooks available were 30 to 40 years old, and technology changes fast. It was a big concern of mine."
So Fowler went online looking for up-to-date material, and found Tooling U (www.toolingu.com), a site that then provided technical training only for big industry.
"We teamed up with the website, and we were the first school to offer these specialized classes," Fowler said.
Tooling U since has gone on to partner with schools around the nation, including several technical colleges in Utah, but Ogden-Weber Tech was the first. And Tooling U recently named OWATC as a Platinum Education Center, based on the school's effective use of the online training program, paired with hands-on training.
"The platinum status has been around for awhile," Fowler said, "but it used to be reserved for industry leaders, like Boeing and other major companies."
Ogden-Weber Tech assigns students to study short tutorial courses online, some requiring just 15 minutes to finish. Students then practice what they have learned in the college's machine shop.
"The ones that use our computer lab to watch Tooling U courses can view the material, then walk just a few steps to the machines to practice what they have learned," Fowler said. "They learn better if they can immediately practice what they've seen."
Other machining students live far away and like the fact they can study text and watch the tutorials on their home computers, and later come to campus for hands-on machining practice.
Brian Fisk, of Nephi, is enrolled in the program, but deals with the 228-mile round-trip commute just twice a week.
"I researched a lot of colleges and found that the Ogden-Weber Tech College offers the best machining program in the state and probably the country," Fisk said. "I'd never be able to progress like I have without this amazing system."
William Mund lives closer, in Willard, but also enjoys the flexibility of online "lectures."
"I can be home taking care of my daughter and still be working on my education," he said.
Fowler said he has a Logan student in his current group, and a recent certificate-program graduate commuted twice a week from Evanston, Wyo.
Fowler said students who complete the 900-hour machinist certificate in recent years have earned $14 to $16 an hour as starting pay. The struggling economy has reduced pay rates and the number of job openings over the past few years, Fowler said, but he is encouraged by early signs of economic recovery.
Besides the 900-hour certificate, which takes most students six or seven months to complete, OWATC also offers a 1,200-hour certificate and a 1,575-hour certificate. The basic course is the most popular, Fowler said.
Mund, 25, is combining his OWATC training with Utah State University studies in mechanical engineering.
"I learn about engines, then I work on the engine lathes," he said, of his OWATC course work. "Tooling U has up-to-the-minute courses that are constantly updating. Utah State updates its text books every six or seven years, but you still have a lot of 30-year-old information in your books.
"I grew up around machine shops and welding, and I felt I could be successful in this field. With the education I am getting here and at USU, I feel good about the future."