They both are what are considered millennials. For anyone that pays attention to some of the pundits in media, government and education, the pressure to go into a four-year college is immense for them. However, there are options they discovered on their own that saved them a bunch of money and time while making vital connections with local businesses.
Both Cain and Gunter chose Process Technology, taught at South Arkansas Community College under Dr. Dave Carty. The program is set up to train refinery operators, chemical operators and process technicians for urgently needed high-paying local industry jobs.
“We have a great working relationship with companies like Lion Oil, El Dorado Chemical, Chemtura… others as well,” Ray Winiecki said. He is the director of the Secondary Technical Center at the college.
Students who complete the program earn an associates of applied science degree in process technology.
“We partner with businesses to train new recruits,” Winiecki said.
On the East campus, the school has a machine called the H.O.T. (Hands On Training) unit. It mimics some of the devices relied on in the work sites, Winiecki said.
“It is a water-based system that imitates the pumps, valves and gears that they would use everyday,” Winiecki remarked.
Working with the H.O.T. unit provides a type of on-the-job training without the high pressure of being inside a plant, Cain and Gunter said. It allows non-traditional students to step into the manufacturing world comfortably while fostering relationships with future businesses.
Cain is still on his internship but makes $12 an hour at Georgia Pacific. He drives to Crossett and is also reimbursed for his mileage.
Gunter has already graduated the course. He was so sought after when he got out that there was a type of bidding war among companies for his services and employment. He would not say what he makes now at El Dorado Chemical but his smile was wide enough to know that he is very comfortable with his salary.
But the reward isn’t all about the money.
“For someone that is an unconventional college student, this program is practical. It combines a little mechanical knowledge with chemistry, physical science and math. With those skills you can work in any plant around here,” Cain said.
“I want to be my own boss and have some stability. Eventually I want to settle down, with a great future ahead of me and raise a family. I have great benefits six months into the job. I have just been blessed,” Gunter said.
Cain said he had plenty of jobs, but he wanted a career where he wouldn’t have to kill himself…working hard for little pay. He went to college for welding, but said that getting a consistent job in that field is not always guaranteed. Gunter agreed and said that welding often mandates long hours on the road. That drew them to Carty’s class and process technology.
It is a two-year, four-semester, associates program, with two internships offered as electives.
“The program grew out of what the industry called a skills gap. Baby-boomers were leaving companies or planning their retirement leaving slots to fill. We invited industry to come in and had representatives from the major companies on certain program advisory committees telling us what they require. They told us ‘we really need operators,’ new people that can look at the screens and temps,” Winiecki said.
So with generous contributions, through the city they were able to afford the H.O.T. unit to train students.
They are now starting their fourth year in the program with a very high placement rate.
Cain and Gunter’s first few semesters’ classes included the typical English and math courses but they also had safety lessons and interacted with the H.O.T. unit.
Cain stressed his Process Instrumentation class, where students read gauges and measure pressure and temperature. His second semester elaborated on the principles of quality, computing and science.
These courses set them up to work as interns.
“We have a selection process where businesses come in and visit with them one day. From there they decide where they can go. These internships are electives and optional, but students get training, skills and payment. You don’t see that often,” Winiecki pointed out.
The internship allowed Cain and Gunter to work inside the plant while shadowing employees. Interns are also paired with mentors.
At times they could offer advice and help the companies with what they previously learned. Winiecki said it is a win-win for both sides.
Classes are small with usually eight to 12 students. That is an advantage, Winiecki said and allows for more individual learning time. They also have programs like industrial technology and mechatronics. The latter deals with robotics, hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics. Winiecki pointed out they offer great options to the fouryear college route and the debt that comes with it in many cases.
Ticas.org (the Institute for College Access and Success) put in their study that seven in 10 seniors (69 percent) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2013 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,400 per borrower.
“Our mission is different here. This is for students that want to get to work as soon as possible. In just 30 credit hours they are ready to go,” Winiecki stated.
He said that there is a growing need for more operators and encouraged anyone to check them out.
Find more about the programs offered at www.southark.edu under Career and Technical Education.