B-SB, Highlands College partner on $1 million workforce project | Montana News | #education | #technology | #training

Highlands College will use a $1 million grant to develop and enhance workforce training programs tailored to Butte’s economy and ramp up efforts to match local residents with local employers and industries.

Justus Peterson, a student in the construction management class at Highlands College, demonstrates the use of one of the tools he and other classmates have been working with in the two-year program. Highlands just received a $1 million grant from Butte-Silver Bow to expand such programs. 

Butte-Silver Bow officials and commissioners agreed to steer $1 million in federal COVID relief and economic stimulus funds to the project with Highlands College in hopes of filling area employment shortages and meeting today’s skilled-labor demands.

The “sub-grant” will be used for education and training in high-demand trades, connecting people with local employers directly or through internships, purchasing updated equipment for instruction and supporting staff positions and instructors, among other things.

The efforts will be geared toward numerous sectors, including construction, welding and fabrication trades, automotive technology, health care, civil engineering technology, cybersecurity, heavy equipment and CDL training.

“The mission of Highlands College is workforce development and work-related programs that meet industry needs, so this is a beautiful fit for us,” Highlands College Interim Dean Karen VanDaveer said Wednesday. “This was an opportunity to work with our community to stimulate our economy.”

J.P. Gallagher, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, said the $1 million project will provide boosts to Butte and the college.

“Even if we have students that come from out of town, they come, they live here, they attend Highlands College, they improve enrollment — that’s an investment into Butte as well,” Gallagher said. “So all of this kind of stacks on top of each other, but ultimately, Butte-Silver Bow is going to benefit from the skilled labor that is going to come out of Highlands College.”

The money is from $15.7 million Butte-Silver Bow received as part of a $1.9 trillion COVID relief and stimulus package approved by congressional Democrats in March 2021. A local committee recommended the workforce project and commissioners OK’d it last week.

Highlands College and its parent, Montana Technological University, developed and pitched the project and must provide periodic updates on what is being done and detailed invoices showing how the money is spent.

More than two dozen occupations with current or future labor shortages in Montana and southwest Montana were identified, many with projected annual job openings through 2030 and average wages as determined by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

Certified nursing assistants are in great demand, for example, with 768 openings projected annually in Montana. More than 130 of those each year are expected to come in southwest Montana.

Other occupations in great need of workers are tractor-trailer drivers, automotive technicians and mechanics, welders and cutters, and under the umbrella of “construction technology,” carpenters, laborers, maintenance workers and front-line supervisors.

VanDaveer said Highlands is already a regional leader in workforce development and the grant will help expand programs and gear more training to industry needs.

As an example, some students in construction technology will build modular homes. One modular-home manufacturer — Foothold — has new operations at Butte’s business park and the county is working with the Stace McGee Group to locate another modular home builder.

Highlands College receives $1 million grant from B-SB

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher and Highlands College Interim Dean Karen VanDaveer, both at center, are surrounded by students and faculty of the construction management program at the college. B-SB and Highlands College are partnering to provide education to benefit both students and the community in growing a workforce in areas of construction, welding and fabrication trades, automotive technology, health care, civil engineering technology, cyber security, heavy equipment and CDL training.

Richard Miller, a carpentry instructor at Highlands, said students next fall can start a two-year program and build a home in two parts on a temporary foundation in an “outdoor classroom.”

“Our freshmen will come in next year and they’ll have a part in every aspect of that home from beginning to completion,” Miller said. “Then the following year, we will start a new home with that incoming class, so once we get going, we’ll have two houses going at different phases at any given time.”

They will learn skills they can apply to other types of homes or jobs in light construction industries too, Miller said.

“They will have those skills where they can walk out and be hired as an apprentice-level carpenter instead of just a laborer,” he said.

Parameters on placing and selling the newly built homes haven’t been determined, but they are likely to end up in Butte or nearby areas and could be sold to those with lower incomes. The proceeds would be used to buy new materials and grow the program.

The grant will help fund education and training to meet new demands in automotive technology as more electric and hybrid vehicles are built, VanDaveer said, and to expand the commercial driving (CDL) program.

Highlands will use some of the money to upgrade or buy new teaching tools, including a “heavy equipment simulator.”

“That means the students who graduate from our program, they can go out and they have been behind the heavy equipment,” VanDaveer said. “They can be operators, they can go into construction and have an endorsement in heavy equipment. So it’s going to give our students a higher chance of getting jobs in our community.”

Butte-Silver Bow Budget Director Danette Gleason worked out financial details of the grant project and said it was the first time in many years the county had collaborated with Montana Tech on such a project.

Gallagher said Butte and so many other communities are trying to meet higher demands for high-skilled workers.

“We’re excited about the prospect of what this can bring to our community,” he said.

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