OGDEN -- You are a small-business manufacturer of steel parts, and you want to grow your company, but you need additional workers with specified training who can successfully lead that additional production. What do you do?
You are the president of the nearby applied technology college, and you have a number of students interested in manufacturing careers, but you need to know the best way to prepare them for in-demand careers. What do you do?
The solutions? Get businesses and colleges together to work on curriculums with a constant line of communication open to discuss industry improvements, updated software and needs so students are ready for the work.
"What has intrigued me most in the 29 years I've been here is to work with the individual companies in the area," said Ogden-Weber Applied Technology President Collette Mercier, who had 23 years of experience at the school before taking the top job. "It is fascinating to see what they do. Not only do we meet the needs of employers, but we provide the practical skills for students, so they can get good-paying jobs and support their families. There is nothing better than seeing a student succeed."
In fiscal year 2012, OWATC reported 1, 445 student job placements, up from 1,186 a year earlier. The college also estimated the payroll of the placed students at $43,378,170.
Things are constantly changing for Mercier and her staff. Once upon a time, the college offered upholstery and small-engine repair programs. Those programs are no longer offered, and others are always subject to adjustments.
"The unique thing about us is that we are market-driven," Mercier said. "We change programs all the time. We also have had programs close because of market changes and there are no jobs. Programs may have been here a long time, but they are going to change."
Mercier used drafting and machining as example. Drafting has gone from boards to computers, machining from hand-control lathes to computer driven lathes. But she said the programs still start with boards and hands-on tools.
"We still have manual lathes and mills so that students really have to understand what the process is and what you do manually," Mercier said. "Sometimes, if you don't do the manual and go straight to the computer, you don't understand the process. We also do that with our drafting students so they do some hand work on the boards. It is so easy to design something on the computer that you can't really build."
Hands-on involvement was a recommendation from the computer aided design/drafting employer advisory team, said team chairman Jim Kern, an associate engineer at ATK, a supplier of aerospace and defense products.
"We found that (design) employees who had experience in the shop they worked for, we're more successful," Kern said. "This was especially true for construction or mechanical designers if they worked in the shop physically. The college was very responsive and revamped its programs."
Machining and drafting take quite a bit of math, which Mercier said makes some students nervous, but the hands-on approach often clears that hurdle.
"We often get students in machining who don't like math or feel like 'I can't do math,' but when we teach math in an application setting, it makes sense," she said. "When you are teaching straight theory, they don't get it, but the application of math makes all the difference in the world. We are teaching some trigonometry and some calculus, and they don't even know it, because we don't call it that."
JD Machine is an example of one area company of more than 200 that has had a long relationship with OWATC, Mercier said. JD Machine's president, Matt Wardle, is even quoted in OWATC's at-a-glance brochure.
"Our relationship with the college has been a key factor in our success," Wardle said. "The college is employer focused and listens to the needs of the industry. They have been very responsive in providing technical training geared to our company. Most of our employees attended the tech college, so we know they are job-ready at the time of hire."
Considering the market and the aging demographics of Utah, health care programs in areas such as nursing, dental assisting, records and medical information technology are a big growth area for OWATC. The health programs moved from cramped quarters in the business building to their own new building in 2011. Student nurses in red OWATC shirts are as common at area hospitals as purple ones from Weber State University.
"Particularly in our health care area, we are looking at ways to create pathways to other programs and other ways for the student to develop," Mercier said. "We are looking at ways to develop pathways with Weber State so students can move from one level to the next level if that is what they want to do."
For example, the first year of the practical nursing program is taught by OWATC instructors. If students do well enough and meet Weber State's requirements, they can move into the second year, which is WSU's program but is taught at OWATC, Mercier said.
"It's a great model and a great partnership," she said.
The president hopes to get many of the health care programs to where the students can get good jobs after they leave OWATC.
Upgrading is a constant goal for the college as well as the students, Mercier said, as departments such as information technology and others are always seeing new software updates. Sometimes, it takes the help of outside employers to know when to make a software change.
"Those employers who work with us are so critical. They are the ones who help us decide if it is time to switch to the next version of the software," Mercier said. "Sometimes the employers say, 'Don't switch yet. There are way too many bugs. Don't buy that version because it isn't going to really help your students. Wait.' We really rely on those employers."
She said it is the employers who have OWATC looking more at application development for tablets, smartphones and computers and also computer security issues for IT professionals.
Also, by teaming up with Jason Coates, president of Coates Electrical & Instrumentation Inc., OWATC has worked out online training for Coates' crew in Wyoming.
"Our crews work in multiple states and can be hundreds of miles away from schools," Coates said. "The college was able to help us with nontraditional education so we can provide ways for our workers to continue their studies no matter where they are."
The varied approaches helps OWATC "remain market-driven," Mercier said. "And our other goals? Are our students completing their studies, and are they finding (related) jobs?"
Kern added the OWATC is a great place to find success in life.
"It is the quickest path to a career as opposed to a job."