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The Advanced Technology Center

The Kilgore EDC Advanced Technology Center houses the Kilgore College Advanced Welding Academy.  The Academy now provides advanced training for welders needing to improve skills needed for the area fabrication industry with a goal of augmenting the growth of area industry by strengthening the pipeline of skilled workers. Plans are to include other occupations as needed.  
 
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It's a `common sense' solution to improving workers' job skills, elected officials say.

It's poised to provide badly-needed, custom-tailored skills, according to local employers.

It's the next, logical step, to educators. For economic developers: a new beginning.

Taking input from numerous sources and sectors throughout the community, the facility is delivering a customized job training program to prepare workers with the advanced skills needed by the area fabrication industry.  The 24,000 square-foot building is owned by Kilgore EDC and, for now, staffed by Kilgore College instructors in its first, active phase.
 
The training hub is filled with workers seeking to better their skills and salaries.  The Kilgore College Welding Academy is the first program to build upon the new training foundation and feed the pipeline of skilled workers.
 
In a tour of Kilgore College in September 2014, U.S. Senator John Cornyn echoed the impetus behind the Advanced Technology Center and the welding academy.  `This is the common sense answer to how do you improve wages and income,' the former Texas Attorney General said. `The answer is to help them learn new skills that will result in them earning good salaries.  Praising the school's technology programs, 'I think this is, to me, one of the most exciting things in education. I am a big fan of what you are doing here at Kilgore College.'
 
It's a project of multiple dimensions, says Kilgore College President Bill Holda, addressing ongoing needs and goals at the school while concurrently serving its students, industrial partners and others.
 
From its initial involvement with the initiative, Holda said, KC sought the next level of job training, specifically for welding but with other options in mind as well.  `One, we've had at the college a good welding program. The feedback we've gotten from a lot of employers has been very positive about the students we're turning out,' he explained. `But some of the challenges that we've faced over time is that a number of our students, after they've developed some basic skills,  leave to go enter the workplace very quickly.'
 
A valuable hire might possess the tailored skillset to weld pressure vessels and manipulate tubing at J-W Energy Company in Kilgore. Or, the experienced welder may have the ability to deal with the temperature variances in jobs at Drilltools or to weld with speed or surgical precision on other jobs.
 
`As I was going around to each industry, I heard these kinds of stories, Holda explained. One company would add an entirely new shift, if enough trained welders were available; another would expand the business model; if the human resources were on-hand. 'What I hear is that this availability of a trained workforce is intimately connected with economic development, and growth and economic development is connected to the health of our tax base and diversifying it for the future.  The college has a vested interest in being a partner to help grow the tax base. The region is much stronger when you have a trained workforce.'
 
Drilltools weighed in on the project in its infancy, and G.H. 'Bo' Steding said his opinion was a `definite' yes.
 
`We were very interested in the fact that we could help foster a technology training center such as this,' the Drilltools general manager explained. In the planning stages and in its final execution, `where this originated in our mind and what intrigued us about the concept is the nature of what we're seeing daily in terms of available labor in East Texas for us, particularly in skilled welding.'
 
Steding is the first to allow his company's first reaction was self-interest but of the kind that ultimately benefits all: `Certainly, we're self-serving in this. We're looking for potential employees; What we were also interested in was furthering the education of those who came out of school. Basically, furthering them to get them to at least an entry-level position in our company.'
 
Echoing Holda's praise and honest critique of Kilgore College's existing welding programs, Steding agreed students leave that training with essential knowledge of their craft, but not the marketable skills local companies need. It's the same story at other area schools, he added, like Texas State Technical College and Tyler Junior College.
 
It's that investment, Steding said, taking the solid, raw materials of Kilgore College students and other amateur-welders in the area and ensuring the human-commodity finds the best possible use, in Kilgore, that helped sell him on the idea of the Advanced Technology Center.
 
`That's how this evolved: not to continually try to recruit but basically to try to grow within the community and the area.'
 
The real-world environment, specialized curriculum and tailored requirements afforded by the ATC are essential to molding job-ready employees for Steding.
 
`Basically, just the typical fabricator and or maybe the typical oilfield welder just doesn't quite fit here sometimes at Drilltools. We have to have that skilled, heavier-than-normal ability for welding.'  The general buy-in was affirming, Steding said, as the projects backers worked to understand their constituent companies' needs.
 
`As that grew and basically caught some legs and it gained a little energy, he explained, certainly with the City of Kilgore, KEDC and Kilgore College environment moving this along at a very fast pace, we've been very excited about it. We're looking forward to it, as they are. We've been very encouraged about it.'
 
It was Texas Workforce Commission's Hope Andrade who made the first, ceremonial weld in the center in mid-April.
 
The commissioner representing employers, Andrade brought with her news of a $75,000 award for Kilgore EDC, a matching grant to fund 100 more students at the facility.
 
`This strong partnership of working together,' she said, 'to build a pipeline of qualified workers to fill high demand high-skilled jobs is exactly the partnership that we need to look for in the future.'
 
`You have built a resource for this community that will answer the workforce demand for your current and future businesses for many successful years to come. I am here to tell you that you are ahead of the game and you are changing the trajectory of this community forever.'
 
It makes the survivability and adaptability of the program that much stronger.
 
`This is a model which, if successful, can most likely be done in other specialties,' Holda said. 'It has the potential to become a model for other specialty areas that need experienced workers on-site right away. So, we're excited about the possibility to partner with KEDC and other businesses and to help students move up to a higher level on specialization.'
 
`We hope that with this successful model that in the future we can now identify the next one and the next one and the next one, so that this really will become the high performing academy that meets the training needs for all of East Texas.'
 
The new program also streamlines another KC relationship:  the developing welding lab at Kilgore High School (and at other area school districts) can send its dual credit students further on.
 
`Once they finish that program, within a very short amount of time, maybe some additional work at Kilgore College in welding, I would think if they wanted to enter this (ATC) program and develop a specialized skill, they could do it very quickly. It would be a really good pipeline of students coming through dual credit, taking a little bit more at Kilgore College and then finishing off at the ATC.'
 
`After high school, within a 12-month period combined with Kilgore College's academy, you could feasibly have a 19-year-old making 30 bucks an hour. It holds great potential, I think.'