Getting Technical: New Industrial Maintenance Class Gaining In Popularity

It is words like those of Glencoe senior Taylor Parrish that every teacher likes to hear.
“It’s made me like school again,” Parrish said.

Parrish was referring to the industrial maintenance program at the Etowah County Career Technical Center. Enrolled in his second year at the school, his future is much more clear to him now than it was when he started at the center last year as a junior.

But the class is much more important than just enjoyment. It is providing training that will give students great job opportunities in the coming years, Mark Stancil, principal at the Career Tech Center, said.

Parrish and Etowah senior Tryston Smith, a third-year student at the career tech center, worked together last week to make sure their project was precisely right.

It is the precision and training that are necessary to be successful in the industrial maintenance field.

It’s the first year for the industrial maintenance class, which combines electrical, welding, precision machining, robotics and other aspects of maintenance.

The school has added about $500,000 in equipment for the class, and much of that comes through a grant.

The need for the class was identified a couple of years ago.

Instructor Mark Lacey has taught the electrical class at the school for 16 years. That included all types of electrical training, but originally focused primarily on residential jobs.

“Right now, there’s not a huge demand for residential wiring,” Lacey said.

Industrial jobs require different types of knowledge, Stancil said.

“In a maintenance job, they might have to repair a part that was from equipment made in the ’50 or ’60s, and they might have to know how to make the part for the repair,” he said.

Years ago, many industries had welders, fitters, electricians and machinists, all classified separately.

“Now they want someone who can do it all,” Stancil said.

There’s a big need in industrial maintenance now.

“I don’t know if the students have a grasp of all the opportunities that are out there now,” Stancil said.

Lacey said the industrial maintenance class has an array of instruction that includes mechanical, electrical and hydraulics.

He said students might have to figure a gear ratio, and that includes a lot of math. But the students figure it out through a hands-on project, and it is usually much easier than learning some type of math through a textbook.

The class as a whole is preparing students for their future.

“This sets them up to be able to go to a technical college and then get a job in industrial maintenance,” Lacey said. “The job market is wide open in this field. It just opens up a lot of opportunities.”

Someone with a two-year degree and three years’ experience most likely will make as much money, and sometimes more, as someone who has a four-year degree, Lacey said.

“Someone who wants to work and is willing to work can get a job,” he said.

Lacey said he believes the class is popular and productive because it offers real-life training.

“You can’t get better training than hands-on,” he said.

Anthony Handley, an Etowah High junior, said he enjoys the class and is learning a lot.

“I know this is really going to help me in the future,” he said.

There’s a shortage of workers statewide in the field, and the class is playing a big role in preparing more workers for the future.

“There is a critical shortage of skilled workers, not only in Alabama but in the country as a whole,” Chris Payne, labor relations manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., said. “The industrial maintenance program will help with this growing issue by arming young people with employability skills. It’s good for the manufacturing sector, the community, the students and the economy.”

Goodyear is one of the industrial partners that works closely with the Career Technical Center and Gadsden State’s programs.

“In order to ensure a diverse slate of candidates, it’s good for Goodyear and other manufacturing facilities to leverage and support these types of programs,” Harold Anderson, human resources manager at Goodyear, said. “The Etowah County Career Technical Center will assist us in securing a strong pipeline of candidates for employment.”

Businesses and industries, along with parents, were invited to an open house this week at Etowah County Career Technical Center.

“We wanted to showcase these kids,” Stancil said. “They can do some pretty amazing things. Hopefully, we’re supplying a trained workforce.”

The Career Technical Center also offers classes in automotive technology, collision repair, construction, engineering design, early childhood education, electronics, health science, machining and welding.

Career technical programs years ago primarily were designed for students who planned to go into a technical field. Now, they’re geared to provide a wide spectrum of learning experiences that help students prepare for the workforce, college or technical programs, Stancil said.

Enrollment two years ago at the career tech center was a little more than 300, he said. Now it is a little more than 500.

By Lisa Rogers Savage
Times Staff Writer