Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and one local employer are launching a new program that will provide students with industry networking, experiential training, and a well-paying part-time job. PHCC and Smart Machine Technologies (SMT), a company that has been manufacturing industrial equipment in Ridgeway for over forty years, are creating a co-op program for PHCC’s welding students.
Beginning summer semester, selected students will take their welding out of the classroom and into the workplace. Through the co-op, students will work alongside seasoned welders at SMT to gain on-the-job experience while they are still finishing their last semester of class work. The West Piedmont Workforce Development Board will assist (SMT) with the on-the-job training as eligible.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our students,” says PHCC’s welding instructor Randy Smith. “Most of our students are working and going to school at the same time. Now, instead of working just a minimum wage job, they could be getting in-the-field, real-life welding experience – and great pay.”
Officials at SMT say the co-op program is not just an excellent opportunity for students – it is an opportunity for SMT as well. As hiring needs arise in the company, SMT recruiters will need qualified applicants. The co-op program will enable SMT to train potential future recruits on the company’s processes and product line before they even apply for a job. When co-op graduates apply for jobs at SMT, recruiters will already know exactly how these graduates weld and what they are like on the job before even beginning the interview process.
Because SMT’s product quality depends heavily on the skill and knowledge of the employees who fabricate the product, having a lead in the hiring process could directly impact SMT’s competitive advantage in their industry. According to PHCC’s welding instructors, hiring great welders can be very competitive – especially for companies trying to hire PHCC’s graduates.
For more than 30-years, PHCC’s welding program has ensured that 100% of its students earn American Welding Society and American Society of Mechanical Engineers credentials. Because of the program’s proven record for producing successful employees, PHCC’s welding students are frequently offered jobs from companies like Deere-Hitachi, Altec, and Smart Machine before they even graduate from the program.
“At SMT, we have great employees with a wealth of knowledge, and many of our best are PHCC graduates,” says Steve Smith, the Plant Manager for SMT. “Over the next few years, we anticipate our company will be evolving and growing. As this happens, we’ll need to add to the great knowledge base we already have. Naturally, we want to continue hiring the best of the best.”
In the SMT co-op, students will be making $12 per hour, will likely be working 20 hours a week (although the hours will be flexible to accommodate the student’s academic obligations). To be considered for the co-op, students must obtain a recommendation from a PHCC welding instructor and must be enrolled in WEL 198 and WEL 298. Instructors advise that the optimal time to co-op will be during the final semester of welding classes.