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Lone Star College Administrators Talk About Skilled Craft Training Expansion [VIDEO]

Earlier this month, I visited Lone Star College North Harris (LSC-North Harris) and spoke with Michael Burns, Dean of Career and Applied Technology Division, and Brian Sanders, Director of Applied Technology about the Construction and Skilled Trades Technology Center which is currently being constructed on that campus.

Michael Burns told me that he is the Dean of Construction overseeing Automotive Technology, Diesel Technology, HVAC, Welding Technology, Inspection, Electrical Technology, Architectural Design, Mechanical Design, and Pipefitting.  He has worked for Lone Star College for nearly seven years.  For four years, he was Director of Lone Star Corporate College where he worked for Associate Vice Chancellor Linda Head to provide customized training for corporations.  He has now worked at LSC-North Harris for over two years.  His previous experience includes work as a drilling engineer for Weatherford International, and 12 years of service in the United States Navy where he programmed guidance systems for ballistic nuclear missiles on submarines.

Burns said that he enjoys being able to train the students for jobs which will get them into the workforce and allow them to support their families.  He said, “We deal with a lot of students who don’t necessarily see themselves as college students.  What we are finding is that these trades now require training.  It is not enough to just go to high school and then go straight into [craft professions.”]

Brian Sanders oversees HVAC-R, Welding, Non-destructive Testing, Pipefitting, Machining, and will oversee the new Electrical program once it is added.  Sanders entered the education field in 2001 when he and his family moved to Texas and he began working for South Texas College in McAllen, Texas.  He has taught at several other Texas colleges since then before coming to Lone Star.  Sanders became involved in the skilled trades at a young age.  His family owned a small meat market, and his father sent him to a community college to learn Refrigeration so that he could maintain the store refrigerators himself in order to save money for the family business.

The new Construction and Skilled Trades Technology Center will be a 51,000 square foot facility which will house classrooms and laboratories for many of the school’s skilled craft training programs.  Funding for the project comes as a part of a $485 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2014.  The bond was intended to fund facilities throughout the area which will offer training and certificates to help students enter the workforce and similarly provide a skilled workforce for industries that need it.  The new center will allow each student more opportunities for hands-on training, and will allow more students to enroll in the programs.

Lone Star finds instructors for their skilled craft training through local businesses in the industry.  Sanders explained, “Our trades all intermingle.  When we talk about construction skills, there is a shared ‘brotherhood’ of contractors and such, so we have always had great support from the local community and the contractors; that’s where we expect to get our electrical instructors as well.”

Burns explained their goal for the students is not just obtaining certificates, but it is “completion and success.”  The training is taught to groups of 18 to 22 “cohorts” who move through the program working and studying together.  Burns said, “When one or two students start falling behind, the team brings them forward.”  Since the cohort model was implemented two years ago, Lone Star saw an estimated 30 percent increase in students’ completion and success.

There is such a high demand for these programs, that LSC-North Harris could run classes all day every day and still fill them.  As it is however, they must leave time for building maintenance and cleaning.  (They had to discontinue running a midnight to 2:00 am welding class because the building’s ventilation system needed more time to recharge!)

Lone Star maintains a close relationship with industry partners who Burns says are their customers.  Industry representatives were consulted in the design and planning of the new center and the curriculum which will be taught in it so that it will provide the training companies truly want for their future workforce.  They work with an Advisory Council made up of industry leaders to ensure that the training provided to the students is the training industry desires.  Burns says of the Advisory Council: “They really help with changing trends, technologies, what we need to bring into the classroom, what they are seeing, deficiencies – so we rely heavily on industry.”

Local businesses and the staff at LSC-North Harris are not the only ones excited about the new center.  Sanders said that they have a list of students who have volunteered to help move in equipment and set up the building once the construction of the center is complete next summer.  He said it is “their opportunity to pass the craft on to the next generation and the next group of people coming in.”

You can hear these and other remarks from my interview in the 7½ -minute video below, and look for an upcoming post in which I speak with Erica Jordan, Executive Director of Career and Technical Education at Lone Star College, as she explains some of the career training programs offered through Lone Star College.