June 7, 2017

Reciprocal arrangement helps students get better jobs faster while attracting top talent to BAE Systems’ Advanced Composite Materials program

Rochester, New Hampshire – When a leader in global technology, defense, aerospace and cyber security ramps up its workforce in its highly specialized advanced composite manufacturing division, it didn’t leave the quality of its future applicant pool to chance.

Nashua-based BAE Systems Electronic Systems sector recently joined forces with Great Bay Community College (GBCC) and its Advanced Composites Manufacturing certificate and degree program. The two organizations adopted a unique arrangement designed to prepare new workers to hit the ground running in BAE Systems’ fast-growing advanced composite manufacturing department while contributing to GBCC’s curriculum, faculty professional development opportunities, and, most importantly, helping new workers transition from student status to employee.

“My experience with GBCC’s advanced materials manufacturing certificate program was great because it provided the opportunity to understand manufacturing, general concepts, and the specific areas of interest that were a fit for me,” said Jason Watt an employee at BAE Systems who completed GBCC’s certificate program and is currently pursuing an associate degree in technical studies at GBCC. “My first day at my new job didn’t feel like a first day at all, because I was familiar with the field, how to do my job, and I was much more confident going in than I would have been otherwise.”

Advanced composite materials (ACMs) are engineered components composed of extremely strong and durable fibers, often with special characteristics suited to high-tech applications. ACMs are light, flexible matrices of those fiber components and are used in everything from skateboards to spaceships. BAE Systems is in the beginning phase of filling hundreds of new manufacturing positions over the next few years, all of which require specialized training, according to Frank DeFranco, the advanced composite manufacturing product stream manager at BAE Systems.

“The amount of time and training needed to assure us that a new technician is qualified to work at BAE Systems is extremely high, taking into consideration specialized knowledge needed for equipment, processes, safety, and more,” said DeFranco. “A certificate from GBCC’s ACM program is a significant competitive advantage when we’re filling a position because not only does it tell us we have a great candidate, but because they can make an impact on day one due to their training.”

The six-month certificate program at GBCC includes two phases: The first introductory level provides an overview of the field and helps students select a specialization; and the second level offers fundamental manufacturing education and concentrated courses of study leading to machine operator certificates with specializations.

“This was not an easy program to create because of the complex nature of the companies that build and use advanced composite materials for a wide range of applications,” said Debra Mattson, Great Bay Community College’s advanced manufacturing materials program director and designer. “It requires specific equipment and instructors qualified to provide the high-quality instruction that our graduates and their future employers need.”

Classes are offered at GBCC’s Advanced Technology & Academic Center in Rochester. The center was the largest single project under the state’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships in Education Initiative (AMPedNH), formed as a direct response to the serious need for developing a highly skilled workforce by aerospace companies. The first students began the ACM certificate program in June 2013. The arrangement between BAE Systems and GBCC started in 2015. The composite industry is stronger in Maine and New Hampshire, but prior to the development of this program at GBCC there were no local training programs, compounding the shortage of qualified workers BAE Systems and other advanced manufacturing companies need.

“Rather than requiring students to complete courses needed for associate degree requirements at the beginning, we encourage them to complete the certificate, secure employment, and come back to take advanced courses to complete the associate degree, so they learn while they earn,” Mattson said. “It’s a matter of prioritizing what the students want, and what their future employers want.”

And so far, that approach is working.

Since the program launched, BAE Systems has hired three of the program’s graduates. These new recruits are appealing because their GBCC ACM certificate allows them to immediately make a positive impact at the company, rather than requiring months of costly training at the employer’s expense before they are qualified to set foot on the manufacturing floor.

“The students who come from GBCC have gone above and beyond in terms of leadership and the expectations we have of new employees,” DeFranco said. In fact, Watt, a graduate who landed a job at BAE Systems, recently applied and was selected for a team lead position at BAE Systems.

Students get a personal introduction to BAE Systems through a guaranteed interview for everyone who earns this certificate, an attractive opportunity for many eyeing a rewarding job in a growing and exciting field. Along with lab training, students gain tours and access to professionals at BAE Systems who can help guide their career paths. The tours are also open to GBCC faculty, who benefit from seeing commercial applications for the skills they’re providing students.

“There’s a reciprocal benefit between BAE Systems and GBCC in terms of professional development,” DeFranco said. “While BAE Systems provides feedback on program curriculum, GBCC faculty gets the opportunity to directly connect with BAE Systems technicians and see how the skills they’re teaching are applied in the real-world settings. In one case, a professor developed a new activity because of something he witnessed during a tour.”

To learn more about GBCC’s ATC certificate program or training opportunities for other New Hampshire businesses, contact Debra Mattson at 603-427-7732 or [email protected], or visit greatbay.edu/atac.

About Great Bay Community College

Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic and professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. The college’s second campus, the Advanced Technology & Academic Center, is now open in Rochester offering academic courses and a degree program in Advanced Composites Manufacturing. For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit www.greatbay.edu.