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To the U.K. and Beyond:
DCC’s Precision Machining Program Expands Horizons For Students

 

T. Robertson J. Williams photo

Danville Community College 2012 Precision Machining Technology program graduates Tim Robertson, left,  and Jeremiah Williams, at right, have found that their education is paying off in their careers at Rolls-Royce.  

DANVILLE, VA, January 16, 2013 -- Once upon a time, community colleges were seen as local schools that trained students for local jobs. But, times have changed, and nothing exemplifies the statewide – in fact worldwide – reach of community college programs more than the Precision Machining Technology Program at Danville Community College. In fact, Governor Bob McDonnell recently included $3.7 million in his budget to the General Assembly to double the size of the College’s program to meet the machining needs of industries throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Commitment to training a top-notch machining workforce dates back to the days when the DCC campus was known as Danville Technical Institute and Virginia Tech’s Danville branch. Indeed, “old-timers” may recall that local machinists were trained in the Danville Technical Institute on North Main Street prior to World War II.

In more recent times, DCC has enjoyed a reputation as being the “go to college” for industries throughout Virginia, as well as North Carolina that are looking to hire top-notch machinist candidates. Candidates like Jeremiah Williams and Tim Robertson, both Chatham High School alumni who graduated from DCC’s Precision Machining Technology Program in May 2012 and immediately were able to land lucrative jobs at one of the Commonwealth’s top employers, Rolls-Royce. Little did they know that the job offers from the company’s new Crosspointe facility in Prince George County would come with a requirement for exciting travel and training abroad.

“I was hoping to have a job lined up when I graduated,” Williams says of his decision to enter DCC’s precision machining program, which has a reputation for more than 95 percent of its graduates receiving job offers, “but I figured it would probably be with a small, local company.”

At that point, the farthest the 21-year-old Williams had ever ventured from his Callands, VA home was to Myrtle Beach, SC for family vacations. Likewise, classmate Robertson, 23, formerly of Blairs, VA, had never been out of the country either, with New Orleans, LA being the farthest he’d ever traveled. Both students agree that while it was a bold move to pack up and leave the security of their hometowns, it was a terrific decision from a career standpoint.

“It was a pretty exciting time because not only were we leaving home, but we were stepping into a brand new field – the aerospace industry – so that was pretty exciting, going into a different line of work,” Robertson recalls.

The Rolls-Royce Crosspointe plant is a global leader in advanced manufacturing and high-end aerospace research, with the company specializing in the manufacture of discs for some of the company’s most advanced aircraft engines designed for the Boeing 787, Airbus A380, and Airbus A350 XWB. The work that Williams and Robertson now perform involves machining parts for intermediate pressure discs.

Within weeks of being hired, Williams was on a transatlantic flight to the United Kingdom (U.K.) to train for four weeks at a state-of-the-art Rolls-Royce manufacturing center in Sunderland, England. That stint was immediately followed up with two weeks of training in Stuttgart, Germany, and another two weeks in Frankfurt. There, Williams learned to use some brand new high-end equipment that Rolls-Royce would be implementing at its Crosspointe facility, making Williams one of the only people in the nation now to possess expertise on this particular equipment.

While in Europe, Williams tried to squeeze in as many side trips as he could into his busy training schedule, so weekends would find him on a range of activities, such as touring a brewery run by monks, driving through the scenic French countryside, and touring ancient castles in Scotland. One weekend he even trekked to the 10,000-foot summit of the renowned Schilthorn peak in the Bernese section of the Swiss Alps. The restaurant and weather station at the top of the peak offers breath-taking views that span from the Titlis, Jungfrau, Eiger, over the Bernese Alps and the Jura mountains, as well as to the Black Forest. While most travelers reach the top through a series of cable cars, the adventuresome Williams made the trip pedaling a mountain bike.

After Williams’ return home, Robertson traveled to Rolls-Royce’s Sunderland facility for two weeks in October to undergo training on hydraulic fixtures in Rolls-Royce’s preproduction process. His weekend side trips took him to various parts of the U.K. as well. He recalls that learning to drive on the wrong side of the road was certainly not his greatest challenge – it was the roundabouts, which are like traffic circles found in America, only seemingly more complicated.

Williams and Robertson, who both now live in Petersburg, agree that one of the best parts of the time they spent abroad was learning about lifestyles and cultures outside of Southern Virginia.

“Before all this, I had no idea what it was like in other countries, what the people were like and all. It really cultured me and changed my world view (for the better),” Williams explains.

Back at Rolls-Royce, both men are putting the training they received at Rolls-Royce’s UK facilities to good use, as well as the extensive training they received in their two-year program at DCC.

“DCC’s program is absolutely at the top compared to other programs,” Robertson says. “Since coming out of DCC, I’ve had the opportunity to meet graduates of other programs and to see how other programs train their students, and so far DCC has the best program I’ve seen.”

Likewise, Rolls-Royce officials have also offered high praise for DCC’s machining program. “At Rolls-Royce Crosspointe, we are very pleased to have formed a relationship with DCC,” explains Sarah Beadle, HR Business Partner for Rolls-Royce. “Their precision machining program produces students who are technically skilled and have a great attitude, which works in our culture. Our campus in Prince George is growing, bringing more jobs to the state. It is fantastic to know that DCC is continuing to invest in developing their curriculum and facilities to help develop the manufacturing workforce of the future.”

With other companies joining Rolls-Royce in their requests for well-trained machinists, DCC has struggled to keep up with the demand from industry, as well as the demand from students who want to enter the program.

“Nearly all of our graduates have gotten job offers every year, with some students getting three and four offers each,” says Troy Simpson, Associate Professor of Precision Machining Technology. “We have companies from throughout Virginia and North Carolina hiring our students. And we always carry a waiting list of students wanting to enter the program each year.”

To meet the increasing industry and student demands, early last year DCC began efforts to double the size of its Precision Machining Technology program. The initiative includes increasing the current machining lab from 6,500 square feet to approximately 20,000 square feet, and moving the College’s Welding, Graphic Imaging Technology (printing), and Building Trades programs from their current locations in DCC’s Charles Hawkins building to a 7,500-square-foot building to be constructed behind the Hawkins building. The $3.7 million included in McDonnell’s budget will be used to cover a portion of these facility expansion and construction costs.

In the fall 2012 semester, DCC accepted 48 first-year students into the machining program – double the number of students in past cohorts, and the college hired a third machining instructor, Kevin Poole, to help support the increased instructional workload. The goal is to increase the number of students in the program from 50 (graduating 25 per year) to 100 (graduating 50 per year).

DCC President Dr. Carlyle Ramsey comments, “Increasing the size of DCC’s Precision Machining Technology program will enable us to better meet the needs not only of some of the new game-changing industries that are opening facilities throughout the Commonwealth, but also of smaller, local companies who for years have kept our graduates in terrific jobs throughout the Dan River Region.

“We are very fortunate that our leaders recognize the important role that such high-tech skills play in attracting the industries targeted by state economic developers as well as existing industries,” Ramsey adds. “A top-notch precision machining program not only supports industry needs, but it can make a world of difference in the lives of those who graduate from the program.”

Meanwhile, with their job training now under their belts, Williams and Robertson are not only enjoying recent promotions, but they both cite Rolls-Royce as being a world-class company to work for – a company, they say, that values its employees, fosters an open-door work atmosphere, and places product quality and customer commitment above all else.

Williams explains, “The work environment is not high-pressure. With the type of work we do, we can’t afford to rush things or to risk making mistakes, so they let us take the time needed to do the job the way it needs to be done, as opposed to looking at it as 100% production where we need to crank things out as quickly as possible. The people here are really well skilled, and we are always given enough time to produce a quality product.”

Robertson cites the transparency as among the things he likes best in the job. “You can see everybody from where you work. The plant manager sits in the same office area, so whether it’s the HR manager, plant manager, whoever, you can easily get to them if you need to talk to them.”

As DCC continues to expand its Precision Machining Technology Program, there will continue to be lucrative job opportunities at growing companies like Rolls-Royce for future DCC graduates. Robertson and Williams say they see a long-term career at the company, specifically by pursuing engineering degrees through their employer’s generous tuition reimbursement program.

 

“This company has great opportunities for advancement,” Robertson says.

Williams agrees, “I never thought DCC would take me all the way to the U.K. and now to where I’m at in my career. It’s definitely been surprising. And I mean that in a really, really good way.”

 

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