A Community College-Employer Partnership Leading the Way to 21st Century Jobs

by Seth Harris on February 13, 2012 · 10 comments

Deputy Secretary Harris tours AvL Technologies, a company that invented and builds small satellite dishes that weigh only 20 pounds. Click the image to see more pics from the trip on Flickr: http://s.dol.gov/N1

In his State of the Union address a few weeks ago, President Obama issued a challenge to train 2 million Americans and place them in middle-class careers through community college-employer partnerships. I saw first-hand what can be accomplished if we meet the President’s challenge during a trip to Asheville, North Carolina last week.

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s Small Business Incubator and Technology Commercialization Center is part of the North Carolina consortium that received funding through the department’s TAA Community College Career Training Initiative last fall.  On Thursday, I met some of their aspiring entrepreneurs who are developing ideas ranging from three dimensional advertising technology to “phase change materials” that modulate the temperature of shipped products as they travel around the world.  A-B Tech is helping these small business owners to develop their ideas and bring them to market by providing office space, confidential counseling, as well as legal, accounting, and other advice.  “Not every business that comes out of the incubator succeeds,” said A-B Tech President Dr. Hank Dunn, “but we let them focus on the most important thing – their product and their business model – without worrying about all the peripherals.” 

Later in the day, I saw another excellent example of the great things that can happen when community colleges partner with innovative entrepreneurs and other businesses in their communities.   I toured AvL Technologies, a cutting edge satellite communications company, and the very first client of A-B Tech’s small business incubator. AvL is a U.S. government contractor that provides state-of-the-art satellite technology to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Fourteen years ago, AvL CEO Jim Oliver started his company in a basement classroom at A-B Tech.  With years of experience in the satellite industry, and the desire to build a new business, Oliver has built AvL into an operation headquartered in a huge Asheville facility with 176 employees and offices in China and the United Kingdom.  AvL’s production work supports an additional 100 supply jobs in the Asheville community. 

The employees at AvL work with some of the most advanced technology in the world, making it critical that workers are ready to contribute on day one.  So, AvL has worked with A-B Tech’s Economic and Workforce Development administration to create curriculum and training programs aligned with the skills the company needs. In return, students learn what is necessary to be hired right after they graduate.  Their work, if I may steal from my children’s vocabulary, is “just plain cool.” 

AvL invented and builds small satellite dishes that weigh only 20 pounds and can be carried in a soldier’s backpack.  These briefcase-sized satellite dishes can provide the same amount of Internet connection power and speed in the mountain regions of Afghanistan as the Labor Department gets from its Internet service provider in Washington, D.C.  AvL also builds satellites that sit atop huge military vehicles and provide enough Internet connectivity for an entire city.   “It’s been great to work with A-B Tech,” said Oliver, “our partnership with the college has helped our company grow and succeed.” 

 The partnership between AvL Technologies and A-B Tech has created a virtuous cycle in the Asheville community.  A local community college provided the support for an entrepreneur to bring his idea to market.  The business owner keeps his advanced manufacturing local, hiring workers from the area to create products shipped all over the world.  As the business grows, it partners with the institution to develop training programs so that North Carolinians will have good quality middle-class careers.

That’s what President Obama was talking about in his Blueprint for an America Built to Last. It’s also the ingenuity the President and Secretary Solis are looking for through the new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund they announced today in Virginia. And as a partner with A-B Tech, The Labor Department is proud to play a part.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Larry W. February 14, 2012 at 10:18 am

This is exactly the type off innovative thinking that made America strong. Manufacturing the best quality and innovative products will not only put American back to work but it will also instill the pride and sense of achievement we need as a individuals and as a community.

2 John Elenburg February 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

As an honorably discharged USN Data Systems Technician (DS2) and previous Harris Government Aerospace Division/ Rockwell International B2 Bomber Avionics Electronics Technician I’m eager to learn as much as I can about employment opportunities with Avl Technologies. Perhaps my BSBA in Marketing from UCF in addition to my current scholastic endeavors as a double major in Office Administration and Computer Information Technology at AB Tech will be something that Avl Technologies is interested in. I love to travel and have worked downrange for Patrick Air Force Bases RCA/ Pan Am in the past as well as at Ascension Island with their telemetry mounts as an electronics technician.

3 Chuck Nieves February 14, 2012 at 10:43 am

I am very supportive of this concept. I am hopeful this will be funded. I ask that this
be available to a broad spectrum of our population, not only the disabled, displaced
homemaker or extreamly poor. I am hopeful if there are financial theseholds one must
meet they do not deny the middle class families, those earning $100,000.00 annually
or less.

4 Jean February 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Excellent

5 Gregg February 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

This is a good idea,but why is DOL putting millons more in there OSHA 11(c) whistleblower protection when DOL is aware that it has not worked for over twenty years?
This was even proven by the DOL investigator general and the government accountabilty office investigations.
Just look at my OSHA 11(c) whistleblower case where after i blew the whistle on my employer about safety issuies and six weeks later i was fired for it and even on the day i was fired this employer knowingly sent out on rent a five ton machine that i had just locked out UNSAFE where i provided DOL/OSHA complete indisputible company documentation they knowingly commited this act and DOL did nothing but let them walk away !
This was no diffrent then the police catching a bank robber with the bag in his hand and with pictures of him robbing the bank with the bank robber then turning around and stating he didn’t do it and then the police letting him go!
This is how rediculous OSHA was by letting my employer go and this one story above is just the tip of the iceberg!
So tell me Seth Harris how can DOL invest money in the useless whistleblower program instead of this program above.
Can DOL explain this to the American people?

( GOT MERIT ? )

6 online colleges February 16, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I also support this concept. This will be beneficial to all the students and job seekers. God bless America!

7 Gregg February 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Seth you bring up the presidents speech a few weeks ago,In that speech he talks about how hard work pays off and responsiblty is rewarded, So how is it that i showed DOL with documentation i worked hard for my former employer and when i did my responsiblty and report how my employer was knowingly renting unsafe equipment to the public i was not protected by DOL?
I did provide DOL indisputible company documentation of this Seth.
Will DOL show me how this” justice for all” comes into play here Seth?

(GOT MERIT ?)

8 Gregg February 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Another thing Seth,The president stated in that state of the union adress,”Everyone plays by the same set of rules”
With all the evidence we provided DOL in our whistleblower case that clearly shows our employer did not play by the same set of rules like where they were knowingly gambling with peoples lives why did DOL attack us?
Seth it was indisputible company documentation and coworker comments and recordings all given to DOL!
Seth is there or is there not two sets of rules?
The pesident in that speech also stated there is a shrinking middle class and that is what i was before this nightmare that DOL has put me and my family through Seth!
I was perfectly happy with being middle class Seth.
Another thing in that speech Seth the president stated that “the wealthiest prosper and the middle class lags”
This is so true isn’t it Seth,They prosper because the wealthiest can even control DOL investigations no matter how much indisputible evidence you provide and our whistleblower case clearly shows that!
Explain this to the millions of unemployed middle class Seth !

( GOT MERIT ? )

9 Inflatable Billboards February 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

Awesome stuff!

10 Rich A February 21, 2012 at 12:27 am

Yes! This is a great idea with the focus on the middle class. These technical jobs are going to be a big part of Americas recovery. A strong work ethic, good education and a pro work environment is going to be a big win for the workers of america.

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