College to develop a new mechatronics program and upgrade welding equipment; Partnerships include Rowan-Salisbury Schools & a new apprenticeship initiative with local manufacturers 

SALISBURY, N.C. — Rowan-Cabarrus Community College has been awarded a $560,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to develop a new mechatronics program and upgrade equipment for the welding program.

“We are grateful to Golden LEAF for their continued support of our community’s workforce development needs and appreciate this vote of confidence in our ability to deliver critical advanced manufacturing training,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus.

Rowan-Cabarrus student gets instruction on operating machine equipment.

While Rowan-Cabarrus has been awarded Golden LEAF grants before, this grant is the largest Golden LEAF award the College has ever received. The goal of the grant is to increase enrollment in manufacturing career pathways. The project includes renovation of space on the College’s North Campus in Salisbury, funds to develop an Associate in Applied Science in Mechatronics degree, and the purchase and installation of welding equipment and all of the equipment to fully outfit a new mechatronics lab. Additionally, College faculty will receive training, led by industry professionals, on the new equipment.

Manufacturing ranks the second largest industry sector in Rowan County employing 8,098 workers. Within the North Carolina manufacturing industry, occupations most cited with hiring difficulties included machinists (welders, cutters, solderers and brazers), and industrial maintenance technicians (also known as mechatronics technicians). Through this project, the College will train technicians needed to fill local job vacancies and provide economic stability for the region.

“SteelFab anticipates increasing our welding operations and will need to hire an additional 20 welders each year for the next few years plus,” said Glenn Sherrill, president of StellFab, Inc., in his letter of support.

The new mechatronics lab will include technology and robotics to support distributing, testing, processing, handling, buffering, purchasing, sorting, and assembling. The College plans to have the equipment and the new program in place by fall 2018.

“These are no longer ‘dirty’ jobs. It’s a very technically advanced field these days,” said Dr. Michael Quillen, vice president of academic programs for Rowan-Cabarrus. “If you’re good at running software, using shortcuts in Microsoft Word or formulas in Microsoft Excel, advanced manufacturing might be for you.”

Part of the grant includes a partnership with Rowan-Salisbury School System to support an advanced manufacturing curriculum involving engineering, mechatronics and metal fabrication. The two entities, each with their own Golden LEAF grants, are designing the programs so that high school students will be able to earn college credit in the three technical areas while still enrolled in high school. These students will then have the skills for an entry-level position in an industrial or manufacturing company and also gain advanced standing towards a college level certificate, diploma or degree.

“We were thrilled to partner with the Rowan-Salisbury School System to support advanced manufacturing in our community,” said Spalding. “We believe that advanced technology and advanced manufacturing are a crucial next step forward for our region.”

Additionally, the College is working on an Industrial Maintenance Technician Apprenticeship program with 12 manufacturing firms in the area. This partnership will fill an ever-growing demand for skilled workers. Rowan-Cabarrus will host and register the apprenticeship program, as well as provide all related classroom instruction and oversee on-the-job-training for enrolled apprentices. Companies involved in this initiative include Alevo, Trelleborg-Boots, S&D Coffee and Tea, Legrand-Pass and Seymour, Hitachi, Perdue, and Southwest Packaging.

In addition to serving degree-seeking students in the mechatronics program, the program will also support continuing education training through a partnership with the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute. The North Carolina Manufacturing Institute is a collaboration between private and public sector partners and investors to link and leverage assets and resources to close the manufacturing skills gap through workforce training and certification.Rowan-Cabarrus student uses computer to operate machine equipment

According to Golden LEAF, many firms across the state and nation report having difficulty finding workers with the pre-requisite skills necessary for employment in advanced manufacturing. Recent reports have highlighted the mid-skills gap that exists across the country and the need to take advantage of the emerging trend of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

The College received eight letters from local business and industry partners in support of this grant proposal, including companies like Vulcan Materials, Custom Plastic Forming and Dura-Bar Metal Services.

“People get nervous when they hear about jobs in manufacturing. But manufacturing today is different – it’s high-tech and clean,” said Craig Lamb, vice president for corporate and continuing education at Rowan-Cabarrus. “This is a viable and promising career field.”

The Connect NC Bond awarded to the College by voters in March 2016 will provide approximately $250,000 for the renovation of existing space to house the new program.

“Many thanks to Golden LEAF for seeing the promise in this community, this partnership and this project,” said Spalding.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College was also just awarded an additional $403,487 Golden LEAF Foundation grant for the development of a new light diesel degree program at the College’s Cabarrus Business & Technology Center on Highway 29.

For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, please visit www.rccc.edu/apply2017 or call 704-216-RCCC (7222). The College is currently accepting applications the fall 2017 term. Fall classes begin on August 14, 2017.