RCCC makes use of nearly half million grant with help from top NASCAR teams

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Rowan-Cabarrus Community College has made significant updates to its Computer-Integrated Machining Technology program over the last year and a half, according to a press release provided to WBTV.

These upgrades are largely due to the $491,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation to train individuals in advanced machining.

"The investment from the Golden LEAF Mid-Skills Workforce Training Initiative will have a long-term impact on students' educational and workplace success in the advanced machining field," said Dr. Rod Townley, vice president of academic programs. "You can't just talk about these skills – students need to actually perform them in a simulated environment."

As part of the update on the grant, trustees, as well as members of the Rowan and Cabarrus County Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Commissions, toured the College's facilities to see the equipment earlier this year.

The two-year grant was awarded for equipment and supplies. As a result of this grant, the College is also in the process of designing and upgrading machining courses.

"We are adding new courses and upgrading three courses in the machining curriculum," said Townley.

The machining curriculum teaches everything from manual machining basics up to multi-axis technology. Five-axis technology is the industry standard. Five axis means a machine can tilt a tool, move it front to back, up and down, side to side, and rotate it during the manufacturing process.

Mark Sorells, senior vice president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, attended the Board of Trustees meeting to tour the College's program and hear about the results of the investment.

The grant includes the following equipment: multi-axis machine and tooling; a water jet cutting machine; a laser engraving machine; and a master 3-D gage to inspect parts. The department will also get new cabinetry to house the equipment, as well as new drawers and tables.

"Everything the students learn is hands-on. Precision is vitally important," said Townley. "We are training our students on multiple projects to increase their marketability. Our students and graduates have a good reputation in local industry. Companies come here to recruit, to conduct interviews."

Students also use computer-aided design (CAD) to learn to design and manufacture items. They can print copies of a piece using a 3-D printer before making the piece out of plastic or metal – one way that students learn quality control.

Among the local employers who supported the College in their effort to receive this grant are Roush Yates Racing Engines, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Atlas Signs, and Martin Marietta Materials. Seventeen letters of support from local business and industry partners were submitted as part of the grant proposal.

"I am so proud of the initiative shown by the Computer-Integrated Machining Technology program," said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. "We could never afford the equipment through our normal public funding channels. Unfortunately, without modern equipment, our machining program would sit stagnant."

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.

To assist the state with job creation and address the skills gap that companies are struggling to overcome in hiring qualified workers with the technical skills required in advanced manufacturing, the Golden LEAF Foundation designed a competitive grants program in partnership with the NC Community College System.

"These are no longer 'dirty' jobs. It's a very technically advanced field these days," said Colin Robinson, chair of the program. "If you're good at running software, using shortcuts in Microsoft Word or formulas in Microsoft Excel, then Computer-Integrated Machining Technology might be for you."

Industry partners have indicated that they will be hiring approximately 160 people over the next few years due to growth and facility expansion.

"The latest and greatest in machining is incredibly precise and fast. Machining is a part of so much of today's world – everything from automotive transmissions to dental molds or turban blades on airplanes," said Robinson. "Advanced manufacturing affects everything in your life indirectly, such as the parts that make up your iPhone or tablet, the rims on your automobile, or the engines in race cars. Even jewelry and high-end titanium golf clubs are dependent on this technology!"

A core component of the project involves partnering with the three local public school systems.

The grant allows for several opportunities for juniors and seniors in high school. The state's Career & College Promise (CCP) initiative provides a focused means for students to begin completion of college transfer credits or career training prior to their graduation from high school. Courses under Career & College Promise are offered to high school students with no charge for tuition.

The successful completion of the Machining Career & College Promise pathway will lead to four Rowan-Cabarrus certificates and twelve industry certifications (National Institute for Metalworking Skills and MasterCam). Students will receive hands-on skills and certifications that could lead to entry-level employment or provide them with all but five courses toward a Computer-Integrated Machining Technology diploma from Rowan-Cabarrus.

All courses will be transferable if a student chooses to continue and obtain an associate degree. Rowan-Cabarrus has established an articulation agreement with Eastern Carolina University (on-campus or online) to transfer the associate degree into a bachelor of science in Industrial Engineering Technology.

The grant also includes expansion of the internship/co-op portion of the training that will help students obtain employment more quickly by providing hands-on experience outside of the classroom.

"The skills learned in the computer-integrated machining program at Rowan-Cabarrus are essential for obtaining a job in advanced manufacturing," said Brad Harris, CNC shop manager for Stewart-Haas Racing.

"If you have any interest in this field, the time is now. Come talk with our instructors and begin the process," said Townley.