Cowley forms partnership to start new vocational
program at WCF
Looking to prepare offenders for employment in sheet metal jobs, Cowley College is among a number of partners that have collaborated to start a new vocational program called AeroStructures Technology.
An open house celebrating the kick off of the AeroStructures Technology training program for individuals leaving incarceration from the criminal justice system was held Sept. 24 at the Winfield Correctional Facility.
The program was developed through a cooperative effort between the Kansas Department of Corrections, Kansas Department of Commerce, Greenbush, Cowley College, Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas/Arbor E & T.
“It was a great example of how well things can work when everyone is working toward the same goal,” said Dr. Susan Norton, Cowley College Dean of Corporate Education. “There were a lot of different interests at the table for this project, but we all came together to make this work in a very short amount of time.”
Out of 18 applications that were submitted, nine individuals were screened and assessed and will go through training conducted by Cowley College before they are formerly released from the Winfield Correctional Facility.
Winfield Correctional Facility Deputy Warden Julie Utt is pleased with the partnership.
“Things have come together very well,” Utt said. “This is a first in Kansas as far as this partnership.”
A Manufacturing Skills certificate, Sheet Metal certificate, and an Overall AeroStructures Technician certificate will be offered.
The AeroStructures certification consists of 100 hours of Life Skills, 120 hours of Manufacturing Skills, and 120 hours of sheet metal training.
A Work-Ready certification is also offered through a Kansas Department of Commerce initiative, where if an individual has the certificate it means they have a certain level of reading, math, and information gathering skills.
Gail Jordon from the Workforce Alliance in South Central Kansas spoke of the shortage of workers and high employment needs in the region.
“This perfectly fits what the Workforce Alliance through their job seeker programs is all about,” Jordon said. “These individuals when they leave here will be able to take their AeroStructures certificate and have it recognized by a company that needs sheet metal workers or someone with basic manufacturing skills. It immediately eliminates some of the barriers that are standing in their way. When they leave here and enter work release they already have a job.”
The manufacturing skills certificate is a competency based training program consisting of basic math, basic reading, blueprint, general dimension and tolerance, measuring tools, and basic skills tests in a manufacturing environment.
Once they complete the Manufacturing Skills certificate they will then go into sheet metal training.
Commerce granted the program enough money to outfit the sheet metal lab with tools and equipment
“We are very grateful to them because we would not have been able to pull this together without their funding,” said Norton.
Tom Coleman, employed by Cowley College and Greenbush will provide instruction for the Manufacturing Skills and Life Skills portion of the program.
Aerostructures Technicians are employed in the aircraft manufacturing and service industry. Inmates are able to work with various sheet metal materials, which is the core skill required to qualify for a wide range of career opportunities.
Although offenders would not be eligible for employment at any company with federal contracts, they would be eligible for employment at smaller sub-contractors, who are in constant need for employees.
A typical career plan for individuals completing this course is to acquire experience in a variety of manufacturing assembly operations, progress through basic and complex structural repair functions and to ultimately advance to lead or inspection positions in a manufacturing or service company.
Curtis Cline, business developer at Sedgwick County Reentry, felt this was a program that has long been in need.
“We’re accessing a group that otherwise we would never access,” Cline said. “We can support and train them with skills and then they have something to go into the workforce with.”
Cowley College will provide the training, while Arbor E & T and the Kansas Department of Commerce will provide the funding.
A graduation ceremony for the completion of the first AeroStructures class will be held Dec. 21. If successful, the intent is to apply this model to correctional facilities across the state.
“This program has the possibility to make a difference on many levels,” Norton said. “Training these students and giving them skills that will help them transition back to the workforce is a big part. Another piece is the combination of services and programs that can complement one another and actually use the available funds in the most efficient manner. We hope that this program will be seen as a pilot for other sites and an example for other collaborative efforts.”