Electric opportunity for students and coal mine

A bumpy ride, the smell of coal, and the steady bleep of radio communications: “Shovel 20? Over.”… “Shovel 20 ready for power. Over.”… “Go ahead! Over.”

That’s the scene for electricians at Thunder Basin Coal Company at the Black Thunder Mine in Wright, WY. It’s a scene that Dan Watson hopes to make his career after graduation in 2015. Watson is a second-year Electrical Trades student at WDT who is participating in the Thunder Basin Coal Electrical Co-Op Program. The program provides a path to employment and financial assistance for students while filling the need for electricians at the mine.

“Our main problem right now is finding qualified electricians,” said Black Thunder Mine Electrical Superintendent Rick Crouse. “That’s the best way to end up with a qualified electrician. You don’t get as much bang for your buck as you do with the coop program.”

Crouse says the program started at least 10 years ago and has been successful ever since. Students interested in the program must be 18 years of age and planning to attend an electrician program at a technical school. The student begins working at the mine the summer before classes start, with a starting wage of $21.75 per hour. Once classes begin, students need to put in a few hours per week dependent on their class load. With one semester under their belts, the students must bring proof of grades to Thunder Basin. If they have a C average or better, the coal company will pay for tuition.

This is the arrangement for the entirety of each student’s electrical program. They focus on classes, put in time at the mine when possible, and receive financial assistance as long as they are showing successful grades. After graduation, the student is required to take the Federal Electrical Card Test. If they pass and there is a position open at the mine, Thunder Basin has the option to offer the student a position with an automatic wage increase. If a position is offered, the student is not required to take it but must pay back tuition if they turn it down. If no position is offered, the student is not required to pay back tuition. There are currently three WDT graduates working at the mine.

Aside from the opportunity to help finance schooling, the program also offers students hands-on training with highly qualified electricians and an immediate career path after graduation.

“Our primary objective is to get them trained. They are working with a certified electrician the whole time,” said Crouse.

Watson is impressed with the experienced electricians he works with.

“There are electrical maintenance coal miners that have been there for 30-35 years,” said Watson.

Watson says he enjoys the hands-on experience under the supervision of highly qualified engineers at the mine. He’s still in his first year, but a lot of his classes focus on residential electrical work, and he enjoys the variety and sense of accomplishment the mine provides.

“I get more hands-on experience with the industrial side of electrical trades, more troubleshooting,” said Watson. “I feel accomplished at the end of the day, knowing I fixed something and helped make it easier to mine coal.”

Electrical work at a coal mine isn’t for everyone, and both Crouse and Watson admit it takes a special kind of person who doesn’t mind getting dirty to be successful in this industry.

“If they don’t mind getting dirty, I’d recommend to go try it, as long as you’re safe,” said Watson.

Electricians at the mine work with extremely high-voltage equipment, which makes safety and training key. There are currently more than sixty electricians working at the mine, but Crouse said ideally they would employ more than seventy. The mine operates multiple draglines, power shovels, and load trucks around the clock. The electricians work on power distribution, troubleshooting, and preventative maintenance for all the electrical machinery at the mine.

Crouse says it can cost the company more than $20,000 per hour if a machine is down, so having well trained electricians on staff is crucial.

It takes time to learn the workings of such a huge operation, but students who complete the coop program are usually ready to start working on their own immediately after graduation.

“We end up with a fairly well-trained electrician,” said Crouse.

That’s exactly what the mine needs. Students end up with very little educational debt and a career with high earning potential immediately upon graduation. For those who fit the program, it’s a pretty good situation.

Students interested in the Thunder Basin Coal Electrical Co-Op Program can contact the WDT Admissions Department at admissions@wdt.edu or 605-394-4034.

Paramedic Program Receives Accreditation Status

People’s lives often depend on the quick reaction and competent care of paramedics and EMT’s. So, it’s critical these professionals have strong training before working in the field.

The Western Dakota Tech Paramedic Program recently received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. The WDT Paramedic Program is one of three paramedic programs in the state to hold the accreditation status.

WDT has been working toward the certification for more than two years, after the National Registry mandated all Paramedic programs be accredited. The process included submission of a self-study, a vigorous review process, and a site visit that included interviews of all staff, administration, advisory committee, instructors, and students.

“The process for accreditation certification is detailed and lengthy,” Steve Buchholz, WDT Dean of Accreditation and Advancement, said. “This ensures only schools that follow protocol, meet specific standards, and offer a quality program receive this status.”

The mandate for accreditation for paramedic programs aims to provide a more consistent educational experience for students. The goal is to develop a standardized education that ensures students are entering the field with knowledge appropriate to the industry.

“Being accredited allows us the ability to continue to provide advanced education in this pre-hospital career field,” Eric Martens, WDT Paramedic Program Director, said.

The Paramedic program at WDT requires students to take 72 classroom and clinical credits over the course of 21 months. Upon successful completion, students are eligible to take the national certification exam that earns them the title of Paramedic.

Martens says the program has been advancing quality through the use of high-end simulation. With vital functions that can be seen and felt, such as pulse, breathing, and bowl sounds, simulators can mimic several medical conditions, including cardiac arrest, seizures, and shortness of breath. Recording capabilities also allow instructors to review simulation events with students on a step-by-step basis.

WDT recently acquired five new high-fidelity simulators. Students now have access to two adults, a child, a baby, and a birthing simulator that can replicate a live birth. The simulators allow paramedic and other students to practice high-stakes clinical skills in a safe environment.

Students who complete the CAAHEP-approved program at WDT have bright job prospects. According to the South Dakota Bureau of Labor Statistics, Paramedics and EMTs can expect a 23% growth rate in career opportunities from 2012 to 2022. That’s much faster than average job growth. In 2013, 100% of students completing the WDT Paramedic program were employed six months after graduation, 77% were employed in the field, and the average starting wage was $13.35/hour.

For more about the WDT Paramedic program visit http://www.wdt.edu/degree-programs/paramedic/

Dual Enrollment helps students and South Dakota

The need for skilled workers is great. According to 2011 Skills Gap Report published by the Manufacturing Institute, 67% of respondents to a survey reported a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers, and 56% anticipated the shortage to grow worse in the next three to five years. In addition, the survey indicates that 5% of current jobs at manufacturers are unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. These results underscore the tenacity of a worsening talent shortage that threatens the future effectiveness of the U.S. manufacturing industry.

WDT is addressing that shortage for skilled technical workers in a variety of ways, including offering Dual Enrollment opportunities for high school students so they can prepare more quickly for the growing number of technical careers. Part of WDT’s strategy is creating state-of-the-art classrooms and labs where students can learn with technology currently used in industry. WDT is using a portion of the Pathways to College and Career Success grant WDT received through Governor Dennis Daugaard’s vision for expanding dual enrollment opportunities to renovate some campus facilities.

WDT’s plans that would create better learning environments for students in multiple programs include:

  • Renovation of Collision Repair lab to create labs and classrooms for Electrical Trades, Plumbing, and HVAC/R
  • Renovations to Room ABCD and old bookstore into labs for Surgical Technology and Practical Nursing and conference room for industry partner meetings
  • Installation of windows so visitors can view classroom activity and floor-mounted electrical outlets to better enable students to use technology in classrooms in Wanbli Floor 2
  • Installation of windows so visitors can view classroom activity in Wanbli Floor 1
  • Renovation of clean room in Pharmacy Tech lab to better match facilities to industry
  • Renovation of Corporate Education office into Machining and Engineering Tech lab

These renovations and the broader impacts of WDT’s and South Dakota’s efforts to grow Dual Enrollment opportunities will help the state begin addressing its workforce problem. These efforts expose high school students to high-quality career and technical education experiences and help them understand what skilled careers are like and why they are the quickest path to better lives.

Collaboration between industry and education, both at the high-school and college level, are key to the success of this program. Those efforts have already begun. WDT has and will continue to invite counselors, principals, school boards, and other to campus so everyone understands the importance of Dual Enrollment courses that lower the cost of college for students and the time it takes to earn a college degree.

All those methods will prepare students to address South Dakota’s high-need workforce areas. The Dual Enrollment project will accomplish this by focusing its efforts on coursework that is directly related to high-growth career fields.

WDT has embraced a philosophy of offering programs that prepare students for career fields that are growing and in-demand in South Dakota and beyond. WDT monitors workforce trends before and after programs are started to make sure career opportunities will be available for students when they graduate with diplomas or Associate of Applied Science degrees.

In addition, WDT uses an advisory committee system to involve business and industry representatives in every WDT program. Each program committee meets with faculty and administration at least twice a year to provide feedback on curriculum, equipment, workforce trends, and other critical information that allows WDT’s programs to remain current and relevant.

Through campus improvements, collaboration between industry and education, and the continued dedication to student and industry success, WDT’s part in the state’s efforts to grown Dual Enrollment opportunities plays a large role in meeting the need for skilled workers in South Dakota and beyond.

Learn more about Dual Enrollment opportunities HERE.