Five local manufacturers join forces with JWCC to create job candidates who also earn college degrees

Great River FAME

QUINCY — When Chuck Makins first heard of the efforts to create the first Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) chapter in Illinois, he didn’t have to think long to come up with someone who would have been a perfect candidate.

Himself.

Makins, the facilities and maintenance manager at the Knapheide Manufacturing Company in Quincy, now is the chairman of the Great River FAME chapter, which was introduced during a Thursday afternoon press conference at the John Wood Community College Workforce Development Center.

The chapter’s founding companies — Dot Foods in Mount Sterling, General Mills in Hannibal, Mo., and Gardner Denver (Ingersoll Rand), Knapheide and Titan Wheel in Quincy — are investing in a workforce training program at JWCC to create their own candidates for employment in the manufacturing industry.

Each company has committed to sponsoring students to enroll in a work-study program to earn an advanced manufacturing technician (AMT) credential. Students will attend JWCC two days a week and work three days a week for one of the five companies.

Makins told a handful of media and onlookers at the press conference when he had finished a four-year stint in the Marine Corps 34 years ago, and he had no idea what he was going to do. He was living in Michigan, and his wife was about to start nursing school.

“I found myself needing to enter the workforce to make ends meet, and that’s when I started my first manufacturing job,” he said. “After a short time there, my boss came to me and said, ‘Chuck, hey, we have an opportunity for you.’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, what’s that?’ He said, ‘We want to give you a new set of goals and some tasks to do, and we want you to go to school to learn how to accomplish those goals. As long as you meet our expectations along the way, it’ll cost you nothing but your time.’

“So I accepted that challenge, and I completed those goals. I did those tests, and I exceeded their expectations. True to their word, it didn’t cost anything but my time. The opportunity didn’t stop there. The school provided me the confidence to work on the items that I had to work on, which made me better at my job, and it also offered leadership opportunities along the way. Those opportunities never stopped, and they continue to grow with me today.”

Chuck Makins, facilities and maintenance manager at the Knapheide Manufacturing Company in Quincy, speaks during a Thursday afternoon press conference at the John Wood Community College Workforce Development Center introducing the creation of the Great River FAME chapter. | David Adam

Makins has been at Knapheide since 2007. When he learned JWCC President Bryan Renfro and Great River Economic Development Foundation President Kyle Moore had been discussing the creation of the FAME chapter, Makins immediately recognized the potential.

“When we started discussing how this program would work here, I was like, ‘Jeez O’Pete, this is exactly what I went through,’” he said. “When I took that first manufacturing job, I never dreamed that this was going to be my career. But I tell you what: I couldn’t have made a better decision. That’s what is very exciting about this. After going through a program like this myself and seeing all the opportunities that this has provided for me, I’d love to see this to get offered to the next generation of tradesmen.”

FAME was created in 2010 by Toyota Motor Manufacturing and Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Georgetown, Ky. It moved to the Manufacturing Institute for national scaling in 2019. The Manufacturing Institute, as the workforce development and education partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, now manages FAME USA as it continues to grow across the country with the support of more than 400 manufacturers in 39 chapters across 16 states.

Students completing the five-semester program will earn an associate degree in advanced manufacturing. FAME has produced more than 1,500 graduates and boasts of a 90 percent completion rate and placement. The closest FAME chapters to Quincy are at Kansas City (Kan.) Community College, West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, Ky., and Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, Ind. Kentucky is the state with the most FAME chapters at 12.

Renfro said 22 local companies were contacted about possibly joining the FAME chapter in Quincy. He said tried to start a FAME chapter at Paris (Texas) Junior College, where he was the vice president of academic instruction.

“It wasn’t as successful as this one,” Renfro said with a laugh. “I really learned from my own mistakes. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I do have quite a few friends who have started chapters in Texas, and I’ve looked at chapters in other states. It’s really about the corporate partners coming together. They’re typically competing with each other. Now what they’re saying is, ‘You know what? We’re going to be better and stronger if we work together, create a pool of candidates who are top tier, and then recruit from that.’”

Students will be allowed to indicate when enrolling which manufacturer they would like to work for if they are selected. Fifteen to 18 students will be selected to participate in the FAME program in each of the next two years. Renfro said he eventually hopes the program will develop a daytime cohort and a nighttime cohort to double the number of graduates.

Moore said the program will be beneficial in many ways.

“Company-selected students will receive globally best manufacturing training at no cost,” he said. “Manufacturers will upskill the workforce and attract new employees with the latest and greatest knowledge. Our communities maintain a top-notch manufacturing workforce pipeline that sustains existing companies, and they attract new suppliers and other manufacturers with this effort.”

The Workforce Development Center, which will be the site of many of the classes, recently added 14,000 square feet of space.

Makins said many of the students selected for the program will be high school students.

“But we’re also looking for veterans coming out of the service who might be needing a new source of income,” he said. “We’re looking for people out there who have said, ‘I’m not happy doing what I’m doing. I want to change my career.'”

A competitive recruitment and selection process will take place this spring. The first cohort of students will begin work and classes this fall. Details and application materials can be found at www.greatriverFAME.org or by contacting Kayla Wentz at kwentz@jwcc.edu or 217-641-4957. 

“Great River FAME represents a coming together — a partnership for the good of the employee, the good of the student, the good of the employer but most of all, the good of the region,” Renfro said.

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