Lending industry a helping hand? Co-Lin program aims to train technicians, drivers

Published 12:05 am Sunday, May 10, 2015

(Photo illustration/The Natchez Democrat)

(Photo illustration/The Natchez Democrat)


NATCHEZ — In recent years, local and state economic development officials have made a focused effort to recruit more manufacturing jobs to Mississippi.

But as those efforts begin to bear fruit, a question has arisen — what good is manufacturing if the goods workers produce can’t be taken to customers?

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As interstate commerce and manufacturing grows, that question becomes more and more pressing.

“Statistically, in the next two-to-three years, one out of every seven jobs in Mississippi will be transportation related,” said Kenny Goza, a transportation learning grant coordinator working with Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez. “That’s a huge need to be met.”

As the petroleum industry develops in the region in the coming years, 30,000 to 90,000 new jobs will be needed, many of those tied to transportation, he said.

Co-Lin is developing a program to launch this fall that will work to address that need. The college already has a diesel mechanics program at its Wesson Campus, but it is looking to develop a training regimen in Natchez that complements rather than duplicates the Wesson program.

“The program here (in Natchez) will look at digital technology and truck driving,” Goza said. “The technology for trucks has reached a point where mechanically it will last almost forever, but you really need to know the computer side of it.”

The program will also prepare students to work on barges, boats and other heavy transportation equipment, Goza said. And when students graduate, they will have a certification in diesel technology and a commercial driver’s license.

The Co-Lin Natchez program is funded by a three-year, $2 million grant through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant Program.

The TAACCCT is a U.S. Department of Labor initiative that gives funding to community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher education that offer programs that can be completed in two years and prepare workers for high-skill, high wage jobs.

While the college already offers a truck-driving class, that has been considered one of its workforce-training programs, the new program will make the truck-driving program PELL-grant eligible, Co-Lin Natchez Campus Vice President Teresa Busby said. It won’t have an ACT requirement.

“That’s a big deal for our students,” she said. “This is a program where there are no boundaries as far as age or background are concerned. This can be for people who are unemployed, underemployed or just looking for a career change.”

To facilitate the new program, which starts in the fall, Co-Lin Natchez is renovating the space formerly occupied by its respiratory therapy program, and will add a two-truck, 60-by-60 bay to the back of the building.

“We’re going to have a lot of technology in the classroom,” Goza said. “We’ll have large-screen monitors in the front of the class, and instructors will have a head-mounted camera so they can go, do what they need to and it will show up on the monitors instead of all the students going out and standing around the hood and trying to see.”

Within the program, Co-Lin will be using what is known as the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (IBEST) model, Co-Lin’s Assistant Dean of Career, Technical and Workforce Education Monica Morrison said.

The IBEST institutional model deals with team teaching, Morrison said, and will have a lead instructor for the diesel technology portion of the program while a second teacher works with students to ensure they have a solid grounding in areas such as math and English.

Students in the program will also have a Navigator, a counselor assigned to help them look for career opportunities, she said.

Co-Lin is also looking for local partnerships where students can work with local businesses even as they are receiving training, Goza said.

“The goal is by the time they graduate they are either already full-time employed or have an opportunity to move to another job in that field,” Goza said.

The college is looking for a class of 15 to 20 students for the launch of the program.

Potential students can register or find out more by visiting the Co-Lin Natchez campus at 11 Co-Lin Circle or by contacting Goza at 601-446-1167.