Students at two Stanislaus County schools will be training on cutting-edge equipment, thanks to a grant of nearly one million dollars received from the Economic Development Administration, a bureau within the United States Department of Commerce. The training is expected to save 453 jobs while creating at least 20 new positions.
The funding, allocated to VOLT Institute and Modesto Junior College (MJC), will be used for the purchase of equipment on par with machines used in industrial settings at local employers. David White, Chief Executive Officer of Opportunity Stanislaus, the organization responsible for conceptualizing VOLT Institute, knows the importance of high-tech equipment in the classroom.
“The feedback we keep getting from employers is that our program is solid but that having equipment in the classroom similar to the machines students will be using in the field after graduation is essential to their success,” said White. “We are launching PLC training in our next class starting in October and this will allow us to add coursework from the nationally-recognized NIMS system to our offerings. We are especially excited to offer Amatrol’s popular mechatronics course.”
For its part Modesto Junior College, a trailblazer in creating career pathways that lead to local jobs, will be adding equipment that complements its Career Technical Education programs with partner high schools.
“We are happy to work with Opportunity Stanislaus, the Stanislaus County Office of Education (SCOE), and local employers. This grant helps build a pipeline for local residents to gain technical skills and advance their careers through additional training and education,” remarked Modesto Junior College President Dr. James Houpis.
The grant required match funding, a hurdle overcome by Assemblymember Adam C. Gray’s work to get a million dollars for VOLT Institute and MJC allocated in the 2018-19 California State Budget.
“We have a significant shortage of workers with the real skills necessary to get these good-paying jobs. We are encouraged that VOLT and MJC were able to use this state money to assemble a total of $2 million from federal and state grants to train an additional 200 students annually by expanding its certified industrial maintenance program and the industrial electronics, manufacturing, and machine program,” Gray said.
Gray is not the only legislator associated with support for the project. Congressman Josh Harder has made his support for technical training and VOLT Institute in particular known since taking office, attending several of the school’s events and calling training in key areas a matter of statewide importance.
“This is huge news – we’ve got all these talented people in the Valley who want good-paying jobs close to home, but they don’t always have the skills or experience they need to fill them,” said Representative Harder. “VOLT has already proven they can step in to fix this problem, and now they’re going to have even more capacity to get people prepped and into a good career. It’s good for businesses looking to hire, it’s great for workers, and it’s one more way we can signal to employers outside of our area that we have a highly-skilled workforce ready to get the job done.”
VOLT Institute is a partnership between Opportunity Stanislaus, the county’s economic development organization that is committed to improving economic vitality in the region, and SCOE. Opportunity Stanislaus, SCOE, and Modesto Junior College have collaborated for the last year in a combined effort to build the best collaborative advanced manufacturing training program in California. This new grant will help strengthen the joint effort. SCOE Superintendent Scott Kuykendall was ecstatic upon hearing the news of the grant award.
“We are excited to add to VOLT Institute these exciting new programs,” remarked Kuykendall. “The Tom Changnon Education Center is fast becoming a center of excellence for vocational training.”
EDA grants are awarded through a competitive process based upon the application’s merit, the applicant’s eligibility, and the availability of funds. Because of the matching requirements and arduous application, the region has only ever received one such award of just over $140,000, allotted in 2010 to the City of Riverbank. But White hopes the award is the first of many for the county’s workforce development efforts.
“We are committed to providing high-quality jobs and that starts with an emphasis on top-notch training. Enthusiasm and ideas for continuous improvement are not in short supply and this encourages us that funding is not either,” he said.
“This federal grant is a great example of what our region can accomplish when we work together in support of economic development,” added Warren Kirk, CEO of Doctors Medical Center and Chairman of the Board for Opportunity Stanislaus.