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Skilled to Work: FAME program places students in high demand manufacturing jobs

The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program is a combination of on-the-job training and classroom learning geared to fast track students’ education.

Posted: Jan 24, 2019 10:32 AM
Updated: Jan 24, 2019 10:31 PM

Of the hundreds of industrial machinery mechanics at Polaris, Austin Powers is unique.

It’s not because he’s an “International Man of Mystery,” but rather because the 18-year-old just graduated from high school last year.

Number of students enrolled in FAME since it began:

  • 2014 - 12 students
  • 2015 - 14 students
  • 2016 - 9 students
  • 2017 - 16 students
  • 2018 - 20 students

Calhoun said the FAME program has a 71 percent graduation rate and so far, all of the students who complete the program find jobs in their field within nine months of completion. They added that "students may be released from the program for falling below a 'C' in any class or for too many unexcused absences at work or school."

Austin Powers, 18, works on a frame at Polaris. He's in the second of five semesters that comprise Calhoun Community College's FAME program. Austin Powers, 18, works on a frame at Polaris. He's in the second of five semesters that comprise Calhoun Community College's FAME program.

“I’ve been trying to learn every part of the plant, trying to get everything situated. And now I’ve been taking calls here in assembly and welding and taking it all one step at a time,” said Powers.

Powers is one of two high school grads who joined Polaris through the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program at Calhoun Community College.

The program launched in 2014 and places qualified students with employers over five semesters. It’s a combination of on-the-job training and classroom learning geared to fast track students’ education. 

John Holley, Calhoun's Dean of Technology, said anyone who qualifies for the program can be accepted. That includes both high school graduates and adults looking to launch a new career. 

When Polaris  came to the Tennessee Valley in 2016, they were eager to join in.

“Finding skilled maintenance technicians is a key part of getting the plant started and we knew that over time, relying on the existing workforce was just going to get harder and harder,” said DeWayne Howell, the manager of facilities at Polaris. Howell also serves as the Scholarship Co-Chair of the north Alabama chapter of the International Facility Management Association.

“So we had to have a plan in place in order to start developing and training our new maintenance technicians.”

Howell said every time they have an opening for a maintenance technician, they go through 80 to 100 resumes just to find a couple who qualify.

“So having that constant pipeline is going to be more important than ever,” said Howell.

According to the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) industrial machinery mechanics are one of the highest in-demand jobs in the state. Its data shows that between 2016 and 2026 there will be 1225 openings on average each year across the state. In region 1 which extends just beyond the Tennessee Valley, its projects there will be 320 openings on average each year in that time frame.

In 2017, ADOL said in north Alabama, the average annual salary for an industrial machinery mechanic was $50,725.

“We have to work together to let everybody, the public, everybody in the Tennessee Valley understand what is available to them and why this is a path they need to take,” said Holley.

Holley told WAAY 31 it’s crucial to continue educating parents and the public about these jobs as the demand continues to grow.

“The biggest part of it is explaining to them the ‘why.’ Why they need to go this way, what advantage it is to them. Not just the income, but the quality of life they can have and really, what it will do for the quality of life in the Tennessee Valley as a whole, our whole community,” said Holley

As someone who started fixing motorcycles in his backyard at age 7, Powers didn’t need much convincing. Now, he hopes he can bring others on board as well.

“I would like to take that into my future when other, younger kids are coming in and I would like to help them and get them in the situation that I’m in now,”

Calhoun is holding two information sessions about the FAME program next week. The first will be held at the Huntsville campus on January 29 and the other will be on January 31 at the Robotics Technology Park in Tanner. Both sessions start at 5:30.

New applicants have until midnight on March 15 to apply to the program. For more information on FAME, click here.

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