tri-c training center serves as high-tech haven for local job seekers

The inside of Cuyahoga Community College's (Tri-C) Advanced Technology Training Center (ATTC) looks a bit like the set of a contemporary sci-fi movie. Wheeled robots that resemble erector sets on steroids brood in one of the $18.7 million facility's two-story labs. Another room contains virtual welding machines where students can wear a helmet and wield something that looks like a long-barreled laser gun. In yet another, banks of computers hum as if patiently waiting for their operators to arrive.
All of this state-of-the-art equipment is far from fictional, and yet it does serve a role in educating the workforce of tomorrow, say Tri-C administrators overseeing the 50,000-square-foot center at the school's Metropolitan Campus in downtown Cleveland.
The ATTC exists to find, train and place the right people in the right jobs, serving as a feeder system of work-ready candidates for in-demand positions in high-tech industries, says Michael Bankey, the center's vice president of technical programs.
The facility, which opened in 2012, became a necessary offshoot of the college's Unified Technologies Center (UTC) when officials determined more room was needed for jobs-centric education and hands-on training. While the UTC concentrates on advanced manufacturing and engineering, the newer building has an information technology space as well as high-bay labs for learning welding and robotics.
"This facility gives our programs a home connected to the mission of putting people to work," says Bankey.
Learning for life
At 200,000 combined square feet, both centers give Tri-C the largest technology training complex in Ohio, say officials. About 1,000 students filter through the ATTC every semester, Bankey notes. Some programs were moved to the newer building from the UTC to be expanded and improved. One of them is college's Youth Technology Academy robotics program for high school students.
The course operates out of a 2,000-square-foot lab, allowing students to design, build and program increasingly complex robots for nationwide competitions. Participants recently spent six weeks building a robot that resembles a basketball-launching catapult.
Most of the students hail from a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) background, with about 90 percent matriculating to higher education following the robotics program. Critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork are among the benefits these young inventors gain from their time with the program, says Bankey.
Another major ATTC component is its welding lab, stocked with equipment from Lincoln Electric that includes a dozen fully operational weld booths for a variety of welding disciplines. A robotic welder and a computerized welding simulator are the other pieces of a venture that officials believe meets the college's core goal of creating a tech-savvy workforce for Cuyahoga County. To this end, the welding program is not just geared toward students, notes Bankey, but also helps incumbent workers and out-of-work Clevelanders gain critical new skills.
Meanwhile, the center has a handful of other labs that allow students to work with energy-efficient and alternative building materials or explore careers in construction fields like bricklaying, electrical, plumbing and carpentry. There's also a Cisco Systems training program and a police/security training lab.
"There's lifelong learning all across the board," says Bankey. "The idea is to give people a true picture of what these trades are like."
Up with the times
The ATTC partners with about 100 area businesses annually, either inviting workers as trainers or organizing training programs on-site at companies that include Ford and General Motors. Planning new programming means keeping up with employment trends, says Bankey. Tri-C is an old hand at this as the UTC began operations in 1986. Alternative energy, sustainability and computer numerical control machining are just a few of the hot industries that ATTC leaders have been watching since launch.
Bankey receives feedback about industry trends from MAGNET and other partnering nonprofits. Heeding these groups as well as industry leaders results in reshaping programming to keep the local jobs needle pointed in the right direction.
"We're gearing up more students to enter the working world," says Bankey. "All of these groups play a role in helping us do that."
Understanding just what kind of work these industries offer is part of the challenge, he says. For example, the energy field alone might require precision welding on pipelines, drilling for natural gas or hauling supplies around via a long-haul truck.
There's so much happening in these various high-tech fields, it's a matter of informing program participants about what they don't know, Bankey says.
"We not only teach students how to do these jobs, but we help them understand what they want to do as a career," he says.

Photos Bob Perkoski 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.