WEST PLAINS, Mo. – With renovations soon underway on the new Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Technology (GOCAT), officials at Missouri State University-West Plains and the South Central Career Center (SCCC) are now gearing up to begin offering advanced manufacturing and technology courses at the center this fall.
GOCAT is a partnership between the university, SCCC and the City of West Plains to bring advanced technological training to area residents. Thanks to a $225,000 Delta Regional Authority grant and additional funding from the city, officials are converting the former city scales building on Howell Avenue into an advanced manufacturing training center where area residents can develop the skills and knowledge needed to fill the technologically-advanced manufacturing positions of the 21st century.
“Manufacturing techniques are evolving at a rapid pace today due to continuing advances in technology,” said Dr. Dennis Lancaster, dean of academic affairs at Missouri State-West Plains. “University and SCCC officials have worked with area industries to design courses and educational programs that will provide students with the skills and knowledge set needed to fill positions in these businesses and industries.”
To that end, Missouri State-West Plains and SCCC will pool their resources to offer the university’s Associate of Applied Science in Technology degree with options in either Alternative Energy or Advanced Manufacturing. Certificate programs in these same two study areas also will be offered. In addition, customized training programs will be provided on an as-needed basis through the center to area businesses and industries.
“With each program, students will have broad exposure to alternative energy and manufacturing technology and be prepared to enter the workforce or establish a business in alternative energy and manufacturing,” said Jim Hart, assistant professor of computer information systems at Missouri State-West Plains. “Local manufacturers who need specific job improvement skills could also send employees to a single course. Numerous industry partners have applauded the intentional flexibility of the program.”
Despite recent layoffs and plant closures in the area, state officials expect employment in the manufacturing sector in south-central Missouri to grow by 8.5 percent by 2022, with the total number of job openings coming from new growth increasing by 28.5 percent, according to Sheila Barton, project manager of Missouri State-West Plains’ Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Program.
“Occupations are divided into ‘now,’ ‘next’ and ‘later’ categories based on the typical training and education required,” Barton said. “‘Now’ occupations usually require one to 12 months of on-the-job training. ‘Next’ occupations usually require more than one year of on-the-job training and can additionally need specific work experience. These occupations often require an associate’s degree or vocational certificate. ‘Later’ occupations usually require a bachelor’s degree or higher and may need specific work experience. Providing our students with a pathway to the anticipated growth in business and industry will not only meet the current needs, but also the ‘next’ and ‘later’ needs of the future. Having a prepared workforce will attract new businesses and industries now.”
Some of the careers students who complete the degree and certificate programs can pursue include alternative energy entrepreneur, automated manufacturing technician, biofuels technician, electrician’s apprentice, field service technician, hydraulics and pneumatics technician, manufacturing technician, robotics technician, solar energy technician and wind energy technician, Hart said. University officials added the average salary of these types of positions statewide is $40,108, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) at the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
Barton said the programs were developed to serve as few as five students per course with no cap on potential enrollment. “A survey of those impacted by recently announced job losses in West Plains showed that 50 percent intend to enter education,” she explained. “With an aggressive manufacturing recruitment and retention program underway in West Plains and a progressive consortium of industry and educational partnerships, GOCAT will have a positive regional impact on citizen employability in a historically impoverished area. Alternative energy development, job creation, existing manufacturer expansion, and industry recruitment are probable results of this program.”
Area residents interested in enrolling in the programs through GOCAT will find several technology-based courses on Missouri State-West Plains’ schedule this fall. They include Survey of Electronics (TEC 100), Manufacturing Materials and Processes (TEC 111), Introduction to Supply Chain Management (TEC 112), Manufacturing Technology (TEC 165), Welding Technology (TEC 175), Applied Electricity and Electronics (TEC 200), and a Technology Internship course (TEC 299). Other courses for these programs will be offered in future semesters.
The potential for expanding GOCAT programs is only limited by need, Hart said. “Based on the input of the technology advisory board and industry partners, along with the flexibility of the program, GOCAT will be able to produce classes through agile course development to meet requirements as the opportunities arise. As new alternative energy and manufacturing technology is developed and incorporated into industry, specialized courses can be developed in order to prepare the workforce for its arrival,” he said.
“For example, the use of robotics in every facet of industry is accelerating due to the efficiency and effectiveness of its use; our workforce needs to be prepared to install, program and maintain that equipment as it continues to arrive,” he added. “These programs are purposefully developed with a broad scope in order to produce a versatile workforce capable of adapting to industry needs; however, GOCAT also can provide a depth of technical knowledge for specialized applications as industry grows in the area.”
For more information about GOCAT and its programs, contact Barton at 417-255-7784 or SheilaFBarton@MissouriState.edu.