Refining the training process

“We have to listen to the needs of industry.”

So says Dave Curry, program director for the process technology program at LCCC. The concept is simple and straightforward enough, but it’s what drives the work he does for the college.

Curry is part of a team that helped create the new process technology program. In a little more than a year, it has achieved success beyond what many even imagined it could.

The plan started when the Wyoming Refining Safety Alliance approached the college in spring 2013. Following a number of safety incidents around the state, there was hope to develop training that focused on entry level operators for the refinery industry. With strong support from Gov. Matt Mead, WRSA determined that more training was needed for those coming into the field. They came to LCCC, in partnership with Casper College and Western Wyoming Community College, to see if it was possible to get these programs operational.

For LCCC, it meant the daunting task of going from square one in April to having a fully operational program in Aug.

Curry acknowledges that it took everyone – administration, community partners, board of trustees, the Department of Workforce Services, OSHA – to make this happen.

“I’m just fortunate enough to have good people around,” he said.

DWS stepped up to help spread the word about the program. Local industry experts evaluated the program to make suggestions on how it could be improved. Faculty and administrators thoroughly examined similar programs, including those in the Gulf region, to determine what worked and didn’t. Then they took a thorough look at LCCC’s curriculum to see how they could improve each session, each training, each semester.

In fact, it was experts in the industry that felt an intensive 16-week certification program had more value to them than a two-year training. Curry has set up the program so that students can easily return at their leisure to complete an associate degree by finishing the general coursework outside of the technical training.

The work is intense and challenging, and Curry ensures that the program prepares students for the realities of the employment, including the value of teamwork. “This is like a basic training before you go out into the world,” he noted, since they spend hours together every day, depending on each other, pushing each other. He finds that this creates better students and a stronger program.

The first half of the program involves the introductory aspects of the process technology, mechanical fundamentals, and OSHA compliance. The second half becomes more involved in
 the intricacies of the work of and at refineries, understanding the complexity of equipment and operation, as well as thorough safety training.

Demand is extremely high for these classes, and part of that is because grants currently pay for the students’ schooling. These students must still find ways to support themselves otherwise.

“They still have lives, they still have families,” Curry said.

Maryellen Tast, dean of LCCC’s Outreach and Workforce Development, tells of one student 
in the program’s first class: an Army veteran 
who saw significant action while stationed in Afghanistan. Accepted into the program, the student sold his car before classes started so that he wouldn’t have to worry about bills or expenses while going through the training. His dedication ultimately meant that employers were clamoring for his talents, and he ended up with a great position and a wonderful salary, working for a company that respects the skills he brings to the table.

Stories like this aren’t the exception. In fact, Tast shared that, of the 34 students who’ve completed the program, 33 have almost immediately completed and found work in the field.

Classes are made up of 14-18 students, and
 they must each pass an interview process and background checks. These classes feature a wide range of students. Curry mentioned that one class featured a woman with grown children, a female fresh out of high school, and two navy vets looking for the next career path.

The program has even garnered honors for what it’s done for the workforce in the state. The Wyoming Economic Development Association listed the program as one of its 2013 Success Stories.

This is only the beginning. The Wyoming Department of Education just awarded a $118,000 grant to Laramie County School District No. 2, in partnership with LCCC and Advanced Comfort Solutions, to develop and document curriculum and career pathways for industrial trade careers. By designing and offering concurrent and dual enrollment classes for high school students, they will be able to earn college credit before graduation.

Next up, LCCC anticipates a similar training model for the HVAC/R program at the college. Employers in the area are already contacting the college because of a lack of trained workers in the field.

A 2013 ManpowerGroup survey found that skilled trade positions are some of the most difficult jobs to fill. In fact, different findings suggest that for every five people who will soon be retiring from the field, there is only one new trained worker to take their place.

For Dave Curry and his team, they are more than happy to step up to the challenge of bringing qualified workers to the industry. “These folks are staying in Cheyenne, they’re staying in Wyoming,” he said.

Employers are seeing the results. Curry has high standards for the program and more so for the students. “It’s not a numbers game, it’s a quality game,” he said. “I am determined to provide highly qualified workers that we can stand behind.”