By Gardner, Dave
Melissa Casper is on track to become a professional diesel girl.
The Waymart resident is beginning her senior year at Johnson college, where she is enrolled in the school’s diesel truck technology program. She explains that she tried various jobs after her graduation from Forest City High School, including real estate sales, but always wound up a “bored” member of the northeastern Pemsylvania (NEPA) workforce.
“My grandfather and father were mechanics, and I have always liked tinkering with machines,” says Casper “This educational major was a natural for me. I’m also working at Kenworth Truck, half of the time as a service advisor and the other half as a mechanic.
Melissa Ide, director of enrollment management at Johnson, says the technical college now serves 371 students who study for two- year degrees in 12 separate programs. The school will soon launch a new curriculum in HVAC Technology, which will he the third new program introduced since 2000.
“The other new curriculums we added are distribution and supply logistics technology and radiologic technology,” says Ide. “Programs that are popular include electrical and construction maintenance, electronic technology that’s offered in conjunction with Tobyhanna Army Depot and computer information technology.”
Johnson employs more than 60 people, with student tuition for 2008 totaling $13,500 plus fees, books and housing. During 2007 the school’s students were 74 percent male, while veterinary sciences and radiology featured larger female enrollments.
Math, reading and writing skills are tested for each freshman, and remedial classes are offered if necessary. There are no undecided majors at Johnson.
“As continued immigration unfolds, we could see a big influx of diversity from the immigrants’ children, if they have good math skills,” says Ide.
One of the reasons Johnson is adding the HVAC major is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 9 percent national increase in HVAC employment over the next ten years. A regional survey also indicated that a skills gap exists for HVAC specialists.
The best students at Johnson, according to Ide, match a technical interest with strong mathematics abilities. She says public school instruction in math is still lacking, with student awareness of the problem below the level that industry desires.
She also explains that the technical trades have evolved. Originally, math was not needed as it is today, but the math mindsets of many industrial workers haven’t evolved with the ongoing needs of employers.
“Unfortunately, we just haven’t seen the necessary improvement in math skills,” says Ide. “This is the No. 1 area of deficiency, and it needs a major revolution.”
As with virtually all schools, student obstacles can appear within the Johnson student body. Ide says that these problems usually involve issues the school can’t control, such as finance and mental health issues.
To help with potential problems, Johnson requires all new students to complete a Freshman Experience program. This curriculum discusses areas such as life skills, time management and monetary issues.
She also comnents that the school’s staff is witnessing an increased level of parental involvement and awareness.
“We need to get across to prospective students that this type of schooling provides a quick return on a two-year educational investment,” says Ide.
Dominick Carachilo, vice president of academic affairs says that in many ways a national public disconnect is occurring regarding how fast technology is moving and the subsequent needs for knowledge in the workplace. However, he also comments that a market revolution is occurring in NEPA with increased recognition of the need for professional training.
He comments that the ongoing workforce needs at Tobyhanna Army Depot have been a blessing to NEPA, and that enrollment in Johnson’s related electronic programs is growing. There also have been a few surprises that have confronted the Johnson College planners.
“Enrollment in our distribution and supply logistics associate degree program has not been as strong as we expected,” explains Carachilo. “Perhaps there’s a stigma with this type of work, pushing people away from the highly skilled technical jobs that are available. A big factor in future logistics will be the explosive fuel costs, making efficiency in the industry more important than ever before, and there will be some very good job opportunities.”
According to Carachilo, it is vital to target middle school students before career choices are made, and to educate teachers about today’s specific needs.
“Matching entrepreneur abilities with technical educations can be a great mix,” says Carachilo. “We are offering an entrepreneur elective, and the kids love it.”
Regarding society’s lost kids Carachilo says that there is only so much any school system can do.
“Parental follow through for workforce education is vital, but its missing in many families,” says Carachilo. “Our NEPA schools are aware of this, and they are doing a better job than in many other parts of the state. We must communicate the availability of jobs and the necessary educations.”
Marie Allison, coordinator of continuing education at Johnson, explains that contract training for industry is growing. Companies frequently call Johnson with educational needs, starting a process that may include an on-site analysis.
“We then develop curriculums and costs, which can be offered on- site at the employer or here at Johnson,” says Allison. “Sometimes we partner classes for multiple employers, and as a rule our regular staff teaches the classes. If needed, we will use additional instructors.”
During the first half of 2008, in addition to the school’s students studying for electronic degrees, 150 total students have taken advantage of Johnson’s continuing educational programs in classes of eight to 80 people. Allison comments that similar specialized continuing education programs arc also offered by Penn State University and Luzern County Community College.
One of Johnson’s successful continuing educational programs involves numerous employees of the former McKinney Manufacturing. Allison says Johnson developed a partnership with Pennsylvania’s Careerlink office and Lackawanna College to deliver a Computerized Numeric Controls (CNC) machine trade program.
The 575-hour course earns graduates a certificate, with Johnson providing the curriculum’s technical segment. Allison comments that adult learners such as these participants are often highly motivated, and to succeed only need a program that matches their needs.
This may include cross training in areas such as hydraulics or pneumatics. Math skills are watched carefully with continuing educational students, and a basic module in math is available.
“I’ve had my eyes opened concerning the need for this math instruction,” says Allison. “In the old days employers could hire entry level people and there was no need for additional math instruction, but that’s no longer the case.”
Copyright Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal Aug 2008
(c) 2008 Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.