State grant helps GCC create trade skills center
January 7, 2019
By LARRY HOLCOMBE
Ironwood — Gogebic Community College will use a recent $2 million state grant to create a skilled trades training center which will include a new state-of-the-art welding lab.
GCC Dean of Business Services and co-Interim President Erik Guenard said the college wants to respond to the employment needs of area business and industry, and create programs that will train students to meet those needs.
“The college is going to take a more active roll in workforce development,” Guenard said. “We already have a really great advisory committee that supports our welding program. So, we’re going to try and enhance that, increase our enrollment in those welding careers and increase the opportunities for us to educate and train more students; so we can supply our industry partners because they are really hurting for certified welders.”
Guenard said the advisory committee is made up of people from local and regional manufacturers. “They give us direction on what we need to be teaching our students and our curriculum. They tell us what’s coming as far as industry standards, … what they’d like to see in our shops, the new equipment that they’d like their new employees to be trained on. Things of that nature.
“They’re an oversight advisory committee that gives credence and validates our program.”
Guenard said the college plans to purchase the former Michigan Bell Telephone Company building on the northwest corner of Midland Avenue and Greenbush Street, and make the 9,000 square feet facility the home of its new skilled trades training center and welding lab.
“We have a preliminary design and everything pretty well locked up, we just need to get an engineer, an architect, to do the construction documents, bid it out and I think we could have it up and running within 12 months,” said Guenard. “Fingers crossed and the winds blowing at our backs, we’re hoping September.”
The $2 million is earmarked for renovation of the building and purchase of the state-of-the-art welding and skilled trades equipment, he said. Renovation will include new electrical, addressing ADA accessibility standards and creating classroom and shop spaces.
He said the American Welding Society, which has input on the advisory committee, gave the college a $25,000 grant in December towards an air filtration system for the facility.
The college currently shares a welding lab with the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District and Luther L. Wright High School, that is located on the first floor of the high school.
“We will step aside from that welding lab, but we will leave everything that we have contributed to that space to make sure those students have all the materials the need to be educated at that site,” said Guenard. “The new site will provide us with state-of-the-art welding technology, so as those students matriculate from the high school environment to the college environment, they are going to pick it up a level.”
Guenard said the college will continue to emphasize workforce development. “We’re going to look at bringing on a workforce development position that will probably be housed at that new center so we can work directly with industry and provide the needed services and training. We’re going to be focusing on how to support our local workforce.”
He predicted the skilled training center’s programs will grow.
“We’ve talked about a couple of new programs, but we haven’t vetted them through our board yet. … We’d like to do some more in-depth analysis with our industry partners and see where the skill shortages are and be able to create a program to meet the needs of business and industry in our region.”
He praised the state for its recent investment in the area and called for the community to rally. “You’re looking at about $14 million coming into the community between Gogebic Community College’s piece, Copper Peak, the investment with Waupaca Foundary. I think we really need to start looking forward instead of looking behind us all the time. This is a great launching point for us to grab the bull by the horns and start paving our own future and our own path.”
Guenard said the college wants to help that progress.
“We’re hoping as Highland’s copper mine gets started we’re going to be able to provide some services to them. We’re working cooperatively with them now on some training pieces, but we need to pay attention to what’s happening in our community and our region and we need to support those industries.”