Federal grant a big boost to Hennepin Tech students

The manufacturing lab at Hennepin Technical College is jam packed with heavy, computerized machinery that's used by students on a daily basis. 

"The stuff that we make here is very precise. It's stuff for the defense industry. It's stuff for medical devices. It's stuff that saves lives or protects your country that's made here," said Matt Leaf, director of the Manufacturing Assessment and Advancement Centers (MAAC) at Hennepin Technical College.

Leaf says students who receive training here end up in high-demand manufacturing jobs.

"You can be making a lot of money really quickly because it is such an in–demand field," Leaf added.

Recently, he says he's noticed a shift in the education system for manufacturing workers.

"If you look at the population that was largely displaced in the last layoff, there are folks who went to and got a two–year degree but really did nothing to keep their skills relevant," Leaf explained.

Now, thanks to a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Leaf hopes to offer more people a chance to continue their education.

"This is for all new curriculum, new programs and new innovate ways of delivering training that's different from the conventional model that people largely see now," Leaf said of the grant.

New innovations such as portable equipment they can take to different workforce centers, such things as virtual reality welders

"It's so lifelike that when people normally try it they jump back right away because they don't realize at how accurate it actually is," Leaf said as he showed off a virtual reality welding machine. 

Meanwhile, one of the biggest things that has employers, (as well as officials from Hennepin Tech), excited about this $3 million grant is what it will do for military veterans, the unemployed, and the under-employed.

"You have these people who have 10 to 15 years of experience that have a lot of good skills, but they don't want to come for a two–year degree," Leaf said. "It's insulting to have them start at a blueprint reading."

So instead, that learning cycle is compressed, which teaches them how to use this equipment and freshen their skills.

"Funding is coming in soon so it's go-time right now," Leaf said. 

Funding for the grant starts rolling in Oct. 1. Hennepin Tech expects to have the program up and running next semester at the earliest and fully operational by next school year.

Delane Cleveland
Sept. 21, 2012


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