By now you may have heard about the new Center for Integrated Manufacturing that Front Range Community College is opening in Longmont later this year. What you may not know is that Colorado has a serious shortage of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing jobs. So this new facility won’t just help our students get good jobs—it will help local companies thrive.
Manufacturing is an important and growing segment of the Colorado economy. Almost 6,000 manufacturers operate in Colorado. They employ 5.5 percent of the state’s workforce—that’s more than 143,000 jobs.
In 2016, manufacturing accounted for 93 percent of Colorado’s exports and 7.3 percent of Colorado’s gross domestic product. The shortage of trained manufacturing workers is the single greatest threat to Colorado’s vital manufacturing industry. Ignored, this shortfall will lead to significant economic headwinds for Colorado manufacturers and the state’s economy.
An FRCC analysis of 2017 Colorado labor-market data revealed that industrial maintenance, electronics technology, and engineering technology positions are predicted to grow faster than any other manufacturing-related occupational categories.
In the next 10 years, more than 5,000 additional jobs will be created for these positions statewide—that’s more than 30 percent growth in the industry. As Colorado’s economy surges, the state needs more trained manufacturing workers—to replace those who are retiring and to keep pace with the growing number of jobs. Industry partners have challenged the college to develop current, relevant training programs.
In 2013, FRCC responded to industry’s need for more machinists and manufacturing technicians. The college started a new Precision Machining Technology program at the Boulder County Campus. FRCC modified our Clean Energy Program at the Larimer Campus to align with industry skill requirements.
Since then, the demand for trained manufacturing workers continues to grow, and additional programs are needed. In 2016 and 2017, FRCC staff heard repeatedly from manufacturing representatives about serious shortages of skilled workers in industrial maintenance, automation technology, electronics, optics, and machining. We held focus groups with industry to evaluate eight new programs. The response was overwhelming as over 80 manufacturing managers from 63 companies attended these sessions. The outcome was the development of two new programs that meet the greatest needs expressed by industry.
Meeting the Need
Working with industry partners, FRCC has now created two new programs:
Both will train workers for the types of manufacturing jobs prevalent along the Front Range and in northern Colorado. These two new programs will join two the college’s existing manufacturing programs:
FRCC has committed $6.2 million to create a Center for Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) in Longmont, which will house all four of the college’s advanced manufacturing programs.
Longmont is centrally located within FRCC’s service area for easy access from the Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins-Loveland metro areas. The CIM will serve businesses and students from Westminster to Wellington.
Approximately 27,000 square feet of space has been leased for classrooms, offices, and shop space to allow effective education and training for both future and incumbent manufacturing workers. FRCC is paying to lease and renovate the building and to move and install our current equipment. The FRCC Foundation has been working hard to raise an additional $2 million for other needed equipment, and thus far has received grants and donations totaling more than $1 million.
When the CIM opens in August, instructors will train students using industrial training systems and machinery to give them the hands-on learning that advanced manufacturing positions require.
Our students attest that this type of training works. “They prepared us extremely well,” says FRCC alumnus Eric van der Heide. “I got a job in machining very quickly after starting the program.”
“Front Range Community College’s machining program has been instrumental in helping us recruit highly skilled employees ready to hit the ground running at our manufacturing facility,” says Marni Urbach, HR director at Tecomet Inc. “We also enroll incumbent employees in some machining courses to further their education and career growth. As a result, this increases our overall productivity and efficiency.”
Offering this type of specialized training also gives a significant boost to businesses in the area. “You can only take on as much business as you’re able to produce,” says Pete Neidecker, founder of Mountainside Medical Systems. “When [FRCC] started the machining program in Longmont, it almost instantly multiplied the number of potential machinists in the area. Within two years, 10 percent of our workforce came out of the FRCC program.”
Many partners and donors are helping FRCC to make the CIM a reality. This investment will create opportunities for our students to succeed. It also will lead to a thriving manufacturing sector and a healthier economy for all Coloradans.
The CIM is expected to open in August for its first semester of classes. Find out more about the CIM and our advanced manufacturing programs at: www.frontrange.edu/advancedmfg.