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Michael Ash, a Missoula College student, uses a bulldozer to move material closer to a separating machine at Silver Park. Ash was one of 16 students getting experience, and helping the city build the park.

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

The Montana University System continues to make headway implementing a $25 million U.S. Department of Labor grant that will revamp the state’s two-year colleges and help students enter the workforce faster.

John Cech, deputy commissioner of two-year and community college education with the MUS, said the funding will change how students earn a training certificate and fill job shortages in several emerging fields.

“This grant is really focused on providing workforce development and training opportunities centered around energy development and advanced manufacturing across the state,” Cech said. “It will enable us to take a new approach in how we provide training by creating new efficiencies across the board.”

Six months after the grant was announced, the university system is working with schools to create what Cech described as tiered, or stacked, certificate programs.

The manufacturing program, for instance, would be tiered at three levels, or three different certificates, including machining, industrial maintenance and industrial electronics.

“We’re going to achieve a lot of these stacked credential programs by breaking the traditional curriculum down into a series of tiered certificates,” Cech said. “The completion of each of these tiers results in a student obtaining an industry recognition credential in addition to an educational award.”

After completing tier 1, Cech said, a student can chose to enter the workforce with a basic certificate. He or she may also choose to move on to the next tier, stepping closer to an associate degree.

The program aims to streamline the offerings at two-year colleges and reduce the amount of time students spend training for entry-level work.

“It’s a real strength of this grant,” he said. “It helps us leverage this new curriculum to provide the student population across Montana access to these programs.”

Cech, who will update the Montana Board of Regents on the efforts Thursday, said colleges will present their tier 1 certificates for approval by the state in May.

The initial tier 1 certificates include welding, diesel mechanics, machining, industrial electronics, energy technology and entrepreneurship.

“Our goal is to have these up and running with students by the fall,” Cech said. “There’s a lead college for each, and they’re charged with developing the tiered certificate program, working with industry to develop the content and connecting with associated fees.”

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The state’s other colleges will emulate the outcome of each certificate, working to integrate the same standards and credentials as the lead college.

Great Falls College will take the lead in developing a tiered welding certificate, while Flathead Valley Community College will lead the manufacturing program.

City College in Billings will head the certificate program in oil and gas extraction, and Helena College and Montana State University-Northern will develop the diesel technology certificate. Missoula College will lead the certificate program in energy technology.

“Right now, we have a lot of jobs that need people in areas like welding, diesel technology, machining and so forth,” Cech said. “Working with our industry advisory boards and partners, we can really chunk the curriculum. By the time you finish tier three, not only will you have three certificates, but you’ll also have an applied associate’s degree.”

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, or at martin.kidston@missoulian.com.

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