SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — When Micron announced last October it would open a new semiconductor factory in Clay, Timothy Stedman and others at Onondaga Community College were surprised. There was a disbelief that after decades of unfilled promises and companies leaving Central New York, up to 9,000 jobs and $100 billion would soon be coming to the region.
And OCC leaders realized they had to quickly plan for something of that magnitude.
Faculty had already started building a program that blended electrical and mechanical technology together, and OCC’s two-year electromechanical technology program caught the eye of Micron executives, who vetted the program before its rollout this fall.
Two cohorts of 18 students formed the program’s inaugural class, and Stedman said they’ve received positive feedback about the rollout with additional expansions planned.
“We’ve had some history in this area of watching large-scale manufacturing leave,” said Stedman, a professor of computer studies who helped oversee the program’s launch. “These are jobs that are available today in this area, and it looks like the trendline is only going upward.”
OCC has offered separate electrical and mechanical technology programs for decades. Industry partners told the school’s applied engineering technology department they were looking for employees who had skills in both technologies while working with robotics, pneumatic systems and automation.
After Micron’s announcement, OCC contacted officials at the company’s headquarters in Boise, Idaho, and also at one of its existing plants in Manassas, Virginia. They found out what skills Micron is looking for in employees, and sent them the new program’s curriculum. Micron did a full review, providing feedback and noting areas that could be strengthened over time, Stedman said.
“As this plant unfolds locally in Central New York, I’m sure there will be other needs that emerge, other needs that need to be tweaked,” he said.
The school then launched the electromechanical technology program — which some other colleges call “mechatronics” — along with new supply chain management and construction management degrees this fall. Each aligns with needs Micron will have once it begins expected construction on its new plant late next year.
The Clay facility will focus on producing microchips for computer memory and storage uses, requiring “an army of technicians,” Stedman said. Micron will need employees to operate equipment, monitor processes, and configure, calibrate and replace equipment.
That means the company is looking for students who possess core, hands-on knowledge of equipment, Stedman said. The size of the program’s classes ensure students get time to use equipment that will transfer to potential work at Micron down the road.
OCC unveiled plans for a new Micron Cleanroom Simulation Lab in its applied technology building in October. The lab, funded in part by Micron, will train students for careers in the semiconductor and microelectronics industries. Micron’s facility in Clay will include up to four cleanrooms, where actual semiconductor manufacturing takes place.
“The signature part about this program is that students get actual experience with these technologies, with these tools,” Stedman said.
Karen Fabrizio, the dean of health and technology at OCC, said students in the program are excited — they now have the opportunity to go right into the industry after the two-year program or transfer to a four-year school. The excitement led to OCC opening an additional cohort, Fabrizio said, and the school’s community has conveyed that it’s a “needed program.”
OCC is now aggressively working to expand the program, Fabrizio said. A one-year electromechanical technology certificate designed for students who want fundamental skills and to begin working quickly is in the works, and there’s interest in opening up weekend classes for students that work during the week. A non-credit component where people could come to OCC, test and learn a specific skill to possibly join the two-year program later is on the table, too.
The community college has already made some of the program’s classes available to high school students in two nearby districts, Stedman said. OCC faculty oversee the classes, and it helps students earn college credit.
OCC hopes the program can expand to more students soon, but for now, they’re focused on communicating to students that solid, well-paying jobs await them after completing it.