Equipping students with technical skills to thrive in today’s workforce

While the tech industry continues to grow, there’s an increasing need for more skilled workers in fields ranging from mechatronics to information technology.  In an effort to bridge this gap an innovative technology program in Michigan known as MAT2 is partnering colleges with employers to create an intensive three year apprenticeship program, equipping students with the technical skills.



While the tech industry continues to grow, there's an increasing need for more skilled workers in fields ranging from mechatronics to information technology.

In an effort to bridge this gap, an innovative technology program in Michigan, known as MAT2, is partnering colleges with employers to create an intensive 3-year apprenticeship program, equipping students with the technical skills to thrive in today's workforce.

Here's a look.

My name is Ian Costew, and I work for Heller Machine Tools.

My day begins about 6:30 in the morning.

When I arrive here, usually start going over what we've got to do for the day with whoever I'm working with.

A lot of it is troubleshooting, machine building, wiring, picking things up and putting them down.

That's kind of the common saying around here.

So a lot of the machines we get come in large pieces, and we're able to just bolt them together or wire them together and use them.

When I first started here, something that really caught my attention was just the sheer scale and size of what we work on, so seeing something, a big project come together after 3 or 4 months of working on it, is really cool, being able to flip the switch and run the thing.

But personally, I really enjoy troubleshooting.

So, if we get a problem with a machine, that's when I actually get to work.

So say it's not functioning or not running this part correctly, why is that?

What switches are faulting out?

What programs aren't operating?

And you can spend a 1/2 hour at fixing it, and you can spend half a day at fixing it.

You don't know, so that's what keeps it interesting.

MAT2, that stands for Michigan Advanced Technicians Training.

MAT2 begins at the high-school level.

We fill out job applications just like normal working people do, and we go to career fairs, and we interview with a bunch of companies.

So, for me, what prepared me was my technical education.

I went to Oakland Schools Technical campus for 2 years during high school, got some training in robotics and electronics and did some really cool projects, at least at the high-school level.

And, when I brought that here to Heller and the management saw that, they said, 'Hey, here's somebody we can invest in and put training into.'

So part of the benefits from MAT2 is that we were employees from day 1, and to begin with a program we started with a double school session, so we spent 4 months, from September to December, like a standard school term.

The apprenticeship allows me to actually see what I'm doing in my college classes used in real life, and it's much easier to learn by doing and seeing someone do a process or put together a machine instead of just learning it on a piece of paper or in a book and then trying to apply it to class.

A lot of the classes we took in MAT2 were very technical-based courses, especially when we started out, because they wanted to get us moving forward in the program so we would actually be useful employees when we came to work.

And, depending on which employee hires you, their practices are different, but here at Heller, we jump straight into it, and my boss put us with other employees who are building machines and said, 'Hey, go learn from this guy.'

Now that I've graduated, I've got skills that I can use and jobs that I can do.

I get calls occasionally from my old mentors or high school instructors, or a lot of times, it's people from the tech campus saying, 'Hey, we have an event.

Can you come speak?

Can you come try and encourage these students to push forward in these career paths?'

Because a lot of these technical campuses are incredibly well funded by the state, but we've got -- They're not at capacity.

A big push that I have anytime I go to speak is getting people to understand that these are real, technical, important jobs that need to be filled.

We've got engineers.

We've got designers.

We've have, you know, the high-level people, the managers, to put everything together, but if you don't have anybody to build it and to actually do it, then we're not going to have a functioning economy.

A big piece of advice I would give to high-school students is to get involved with your technical campuses.

Whether it's a robotics program that your school has or a full-blown technical campus like I had, that is the biggest and easiest way to get in these types of careers.

It's not the down and dirty work that it used to be or that it's seen to be.

It's real technical work.

And, in all honesty, I'm seeing where my 4-year colleagues are going, and I'm, in reality, ahead of them because of this path that I chose.