A technical training program housed in a state-of-the-art building unveiled Thursday will enable students at Front Range Community College to pursue in-demand specialties like electronics engineering and optics — and eventually allow local high school students to get a head start on careers. 

The Center for Integrated Manufacturing, built with $6 million in community college funds plus contributions from industry, is part of a broader effort in Colorado to expand vocational training and better connect high school, colleges, and employers. Earlier this year, the state passed a new bill that pushes high schools to make more college courses, including in technical fields, available to their students and expanded an existing school construction grant program so that money could be used to build out high-tech labs for manufacturing programs. School districts are also investing in new technical education facilities.

Classes will start this fall in electronics engineering technology, optics technology and automation and engineering technology. Together, they multiply the size of the college’s technical training programs, which began with a machining strand in 2014.

PHOTO: Kati Weis, Chalkbeat
Front Range Community College held a ribbon-cutting Thursday to celebrate its new Center for Integrated Manufacturing.

George Newman, Front Range’s manufacturing program director, said the college designed the programs in collaboration with more than 60 manufacturing companies in Colorado and Wyoming. 

“Right now the manufacturing community is facing a very critical shortage of skilled workers between the retirement of the baby boomers and the lack of training in these manufacturing skills that has been going on over the years,” said Newman. “When we started (planning) in 2016, the companies told us what the manufacturing areas were that they just weren’t able to find qualified people for, and then we held focus group sessions in 2017 for a deeper dive.”

Front Range plans to open the technical courses to students in the St. Vrain Valley School District within two years. Through concurrent enrollment, high school students will be able to take college-level classes and earn college credit in areas beyond the more traditional academic subjects.

St. Vrain already offers courses in manufacturing at its Olde Columbine High School campus, across Sunset Street in Longmont from the new Center for Integrated Manufacturing. The high school’s program features large classrooms filled with the latest industrial equipment. After graduating, students can continue at the community college to gain more advanced technical training.

According to Neil Shupe, the director of the high school’s Advanced Manufacturing Academy, the curriculum is designed with the help and insight of local manufacturing companies. 

“We have an advisory board at the high school level that contains about 32 business partners that are from small shops to fairly large shops, and we have people all the time asking for internships, and we have apprenticeships for 16-year-olds to move through manufacturing,” Shupe said. 

PHOTO: Kati Weis, Chalkbeat
Staff at the Advanced Manufacturing Academy of the St. Vrain School District work with a 3D printer during an open house on Thursday.

The high school program offers students a chance to obtain basic certificates like Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifications to give students a jumpstart on training at the college level. 

Joseph Wright, 26, a student at the new community college facility, said that’s an incredibly valuable opportunity for the Longmont youth. 

“Being able to jump straight from high school into these college classes would have made it so much easier to progress and advance so much faster, and get into a career with advancement opportunities by 19 or 20,” Wright said. 

To learn more about the new educational facility, click here.