County College of Morris President Tony Iacono is more than happy to talk about how the new Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center will help the school go from an 11,000-square-foot facility to one that is more than 31,000 square feet.
And he’s more than happy to talk about how capacity issues no longer will force the school to turn away students who are eager to train for careers in a sector that is desperate for a next generation of workers.
But, when CCM holds its virtual grand opening for the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Iacono would rather explain how the kind of work students now will be able to do in the facility is what will set it apart.
“We’ve tripled the space, so that’s allowing us to do things that we’ve long wanted to, but never had the room,” Iacona said. “A student now can have a concept, do a design of it on the computers and actually make it in the lab.
“So, it’s not just more students that we can serve — it’s how we can serve them.”
Doing so will help CCM serve its ultimate mission: Preparing people for the workforce of today and tomorrow.
Iacono said one of the beauties of the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center is that it can be used by the wide variety of students that come to CCM:
- Students looking to get a certificate and enter the workforce (and some of those students will be in high school);
- Students looking to use the program as a jumping-off point for an associate degree (or on the way to a four-year degree and advanced degrees);
- Employees who currently are on the job, looking to increase their skills (or those looking for a midcareer change).
The center also will be able to serve students who may be enrolled in other community colleges or local colleges who come for this specialized training, Iacono said.
“Our job is to support the whole community, making sure that we’re doing our part in providing a pipeline of skilled workers,” he said.
The Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center took nearly two years to complete — and many more to plan and conceive. Iacono said he was grateful for the financial help and encouragement from local and state officials. And happier still that local companies played a role throughout.
“Everything that we build, we build with industry partnerships,” he said. “We don’t take a guess at what they’re going to need — and we certainly don’t try to tell them what they’re going to need. It starts in conversations around the table.”
The result is evident throughout the center.
“We’ve partnered really closely with the Knotts Co., which has been donating really high-end robots to us,” he said. “So, having an automation lab and being able to work with that is instrumental in everything that we do.”
The same holds throughout — everything from 3D printers to the new welding lab.
“When you go through this building, we will reference one particular room or area and say this exists because of this manufacturer and that exists because of that manufacturer,” he said. “Even early in the design phase, manufacturers were telling us what they wanted, what they needed. And I think that makes it a much better building that than it ever could have been.”
The relationship works both ways, Iacono said. While the school benefits from the latest technology, companies benefit from having a workforce trained on the latest technology.
“When our students walk into their plant already trained, that’s a cost savings and an accelerator for them,” he said.
Companies also benefit when students decide these types of programs are not for them, Iacono said.
“Some companies have their own apprenticeship programs — and some individuals think they’d be interested, but, when they get involved in those programs, they find out they don’t really want to do this, so the company just lost money and time,” he said. “We are able to do the prescreening. Companies will know when we send individuals to them, that person is not only knowledgeable, but also passionate about being with that company.”
Today’s virtual opening will last about a half-hour. But it’s just the start of a promotional blitz of the facility. CCM officials want students, parents, and manufacturing and engineering companies to understand the value of the facility to the region.
“Getting the word out really means we do a lot of meetings,” Iacono said. “We’re embarking on a lot of tours with school districts, with business and industry, with elected officials, and really making sure people know what’s out there.
“On Tuesday, we will be launching our digital opening for the new building. And that’ll get pushed up heavily on social media and through local school districts, because we want moms and dads to know about it, as well, because they’re a huge driver in the decisions that their kids make.
“And what we want students to know is they’ve got a lot of opportunities. Some students envision themselves being engineers, others want to be individuals who work right in the manufacturing community with a technical certificate or a two-year degree, right? But we want them to know they’ve got choices, wherever they may see themselves.”
Iacono is eager to get started. The Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center is finally here. He’s ready to show it off during the virtual grand opening.
“It’s a really great digital opening that pushes impact and what this building means to all of us,” he said. “I think viewers are going to see our excitement around what happens in this building and who the building is for.
“The presentation talks a lot about the impact the center will have on individual lives. It really gets into the impact on the economy of northwest New Jersey and how, whether you work in manufacturing or not, we all benefit from the industry being here.”