This story appears in the April 2021 issue of Business Alabama magazine.
In the spring of 2018, Paul Logston was a senior at Lawrence County High School in Moulton with offers to play football at five different out-of-state colleges. He needed financial assistance to pursue his goal of a college degree in engineering, but he didn’t want to move to Iowa or another faraway place.
In January, midway through his senior year, Logston’s guidance counselor handed him a brochure about FAME, a unique program at Calhoun Community College that combines a two-year technical associate degree with paid work experience at a local plant in advanced manufacturing technology. “Until my counselor handed me that brochure, I had no idea it was possible to get paid while going to school and get experience in advanced manufacturing, which is just about like engineering,” Logston says. “I am very grateful to her because that opened the door to a life I didn’t know was available.”
Logston graduated from the FAME program in Spring 2020 and secured a full-time job at EFi Automotive, the company where he worked during the two-year program. He now works as an advanced manufacturing technician and continues to attend college with plans to earn a degree in engineering; his employer will foot the bill.
In addition to paving a career path for motivated students like Logston, FAME also helps meet the workforce needs of local employers like EFi Automotive, Toyota, Polaris and many others.
FAME is yielding great success for students and employers, as well as local communities — by keeping smart, talented workers in Alabama.
A History of Success
The FAME program, so named for the Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education, has been paving career pathways for advanced manufacturing professionals for more than a decade. Toyota launched the program in 2010 in Kentucky in an effort to train its maintenance workforce. The program quickly spread to other Toyota plants, and in 2014, Toyota’s Huntsville engine plant partnered with Calhoun Community College to develop the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT).
“Each plant would partner with a local college to offer the school-based learning while Toyota provided the work-based learning,” says Terry Patterson, coordinator of advanced manufacturing collaborative programs at Calhoun Community College. Gradually, other manufacturing companies joined the initiative, and it is now overseen by the Manufacturing Institute. FAME now has chapters in 13 states and works with almost 400 partner companies, providing education, training and certifications for the Advanced Manufacturing Technician occupational track.
FAME’s Rocket City Chapter, which is a partnership among Calhoun Community College and 22 local companies, operates in a new dedicated facility in the Alabama Robotics Technology Park iin Tanner, with 41 second-year and 27 first-year students.
A Winning Process
Getting accepted into the FAME program isn’t easy. An applicant must qualify to take college-level courses, complete an interview process and be selected by one of the sponsoring companies.
In the interview, each student sits at the front of the room with representatives from each of the 22 sponsoring companies sitting in a horseshoe around him or her, firing off questions. “They don’t go easy on you,” Logston says with a laugh.
After all the interviews have been completed, FAME hosts Draft Day, its own version of a sports draft, in which each company takes turns selecting students to sponsor. When all the companies have made selections, students start work in June. After a summer of working full-time, the students start school in August, working three days and attending classes two days each week.
“When I started work that summer, it was all brand-new to me, but that was OK,” Logston says. “My mentors gave me lots of guidance and helped me gain experience. That’s one of the great things about this program. You’re not just going to school and learning from a professor; you’re also learning from people who have been doing this work for years.”
During their days at school, students spend time learning “the topics necessary to train a multi-craft mechanic,” Patterson says. That includes courses in robotics, pneumatics, hydraulics, motor controls, AC/DC machines, programmable logic controllers, industrial mechanics, pumps and piping and safety, as well as the general education courses necessary to earn an associate of applied science degree.
Upon graduation, many students land jobs with their sponsoring companies, as Logston did. Others land jobs at other local manufacturing companies. For students who choose to work in the field of industrial maintenance, FAME’s job placement rate is 100%, Patterson says.
A Satisfying Partnership
Not only do FAME students learn through a cutting-edge curriculum and gain valuable work experience with
global manufacturing leaders, but they also earn a living wage while attending college.
Over two years, students can earn as much as $33,500, which can cover all of a student’s education expenses. The program also offers potential grants and financial aid for qualifying students.
While students learn and earn, they are also meeting the workforce needs of the sponsoring manufacturing companies. For instance, at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Huntsville, 27 FAME students and graduates are currently working at the plant.
“Our graduates are now mentors to our new students,” says Angie McCue, human resources skilled staffing recruiter. “Through the FAME program, we have established a pipeline of multi-skilled maintenance technicians that know our culture and systems the day they graduate and become permanent employees.”
When the Rocket City Chapter of FAME launched seven years ago, Calhoun and Toyota representatives worked together to establish a curriculum that would meet the needs of advanced manufacturing employers at the time.
As the industry changes and grows, the curriculum continues to evolve with it. The employers, including Toyota, conduct yearly testing among the graduates and make adjustments to the curriculum based on the test results, as well as changing business needs, McCue says.