Different Paths, Same Goal

Alan Stoudt and Nate Brandt

Alan Stoudt has gone through two plant closings and the outsourcing of his job at a third employer. Nate Brandt started at RACC as an education major after graduating from Governor Mifflin High School. Now, both men are studying for a career in the growing field of mechatronics with classes at the Schmidt Training and Technology Center (STTC).

Like the rest of the College, diversity abounds in the STTC. While Alan and Nate represent two opposite ends of the spectrum, there are also plenty of students in the middle. Many companies send their current employees to the STTC for training as well. What unites them all is the quest for a stable career in the growing field of advanced manufacturing.

"The combination of the baby boomer retirements, the increase in automated highly- sophisticated manufacturing equipment and a dry pipeline of technically educated workers have created a frenzy in the hunt for candidates to fill new and existing technical jobs," said Bonnie Spayd, Director of Business and Industry Programs at the STTC.

"This is one of the few areas of employment in the U.S. where skilled technicians will likely get multiple job offers and have tremendous opportunity for upward mobility – both in position and salary – within their place of employment," she added.

Alan first visited the STTC last summer after receiving special Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA) funding because his last job at a local pharmaceutical company was sent overseas to a foreign plant. He said a friend who teaches at Berks County Career and Technology Center pointed him to RACC.

"I talked with him and one of his friends and they advised me to look into mechatronics," Alan said. "They said if they were going to start over again they would come to RACC.

Alan, a native of Schuylkill County, is working through the Advanced Manufacturing Integrated Systems Technology (AMIST) courses. AMIST provides training in skills ranging from electrical control circuits to pneumatic and hydraulic troubleshooting and electronic process controls.

Alan said his funding requires that he spends a minimum of five days and 30 hours at the STTC for his courses. "It's self-paced, which is great because I would struggle if I had to go at a slower classroom pace," he said. "I use a workbook and the computer and then there are the hands-on skills you have to demonstrate. There are also quizzes that are graded by an instructor."

When it comes to finding a new job, Alan said he knows the training he has received at the STTC will give him more options.

"The AMIST program focuses on taking care of the machines and programmed controllers, so I'm not locked into one specific field," he said. "I feel like I'm much more versatile and valuable."

While Alan has spent years in the manufacturing field already, Nate said he never thought about that for a career. He earned good grades at Governor Mifflin, but said he always had a drive to do something hands-on. The affordability and the ability to transfer any general education courses is what initially drew Nate to RACC.

"I started as an Education Transfer major, but my first semester I had to interview people in the field," Nate said. "After talking with them about the economy and how hard it was to get jobs, I decided to open myself up to other possibilities."

Nate switched to a Science Transfer major thinking he could still become a teacher, but then his mom saw a BCTV program and video about Mechatronics and showed it to Nate. "It was the perfect compromise," Nate said. "It had the academics with the hands-on."

Nate, 20, will earn an Associate Degree in Mechatronics Engineering Technology and hopes to graduate in December. "The program is split into four sections and I'm about three-quarters of the way through. It's self-paced, which is great because you can work ahead or slow down if you need more time."

The degree program also requires a capstone project that includes skill demonstration and a report that is presented to the entire STTC faculty. Nate said he comes to campus every day from 7:30-3:30 and is working in the STTC labs when he's not in class for one of his general education courses.

Nate's long-term goal is to become an engineer. His goal is to start working after he leaves RACC and then enroll for his bachelor's degree on a part-time basis.

"I'd like to use what I learned as a technician to design new products," said Nate. "There is a disconnect between engineers and products on the floor, so I think I would be a lot better engineer to have worked in the field."