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Editor's note: This article first appeared in the March 9 publication of The Columbus Telegram, Power and Progress section.

Taynan Turman balances both his school and work life.

While currently pursuing an associate degree in Applied Sciences in Welding Technology at Central Community College-Columbus, he also works about 30 hours a week part-time at Columbus Hydraulics. One of the things that attracted the Seward native to the school's program was the area’s abundance of manufacturing careers.

“There are so many options just to get your foot in the door, and then from there, especially with trade skills nowadays how they’re falling off, you can find a job just about anywhere,” Turman said.

CCC-Columbus Associate Dean of Instruction Duane Matson said there are a lot of job opportunities in Columbus due to the abundance of manufacturing positions, which helps with school recruitment. Many locally based companies look toward the school when it comes to filling positions in welding and mechatronics. He said BD Manufacturing and Camaco have had some of their employees attended classes at the campus. In return, many experts from various companies give presentations to students on campus.

“We’re getting quite a few companies that come in and visit with students. It’s a good thing for both,” Matson said. “Students get to see what outside companies are looking for and they get to hear the same thing that instructors are telling them. Sometimes from a different person, it seems to sink in better.”

Matson said the school tends to gear its education program toward the industrial needs of Columbus. Currently, the campus is working on assembling a new instrumentation lab, filled with a series of pipes flowing with water. Construction began a year ago, transforming a room that was formally used by the school's drafting program. The lab will have three work stations, two focusing on flow/pressure and the third on temperature. The project was funded by an $850,000 grant from the National Science Foundation along with $300,000 worth of equipment donated to the school for companies like Fluke Manufacturing, Process Controls, Emerson and Endress+Hauser.

Dan Davidchik teaches instrumentation classes as a part of the school's mechatronics program. He'll be one of the school instructors teaching out of the new lab. He said it will prepare students for careers in food processing, ethanol and power plants. The lab should be ready for student use starting this fall.

"It is custom built, custom designed with heavy industry input. It's kind of like a mini plant startup, and you won't see another one like it anywhere, because it is one of a kind," Davidchik said about the lab. "Hopefully, (it's) the beginning of our solution to the shortages in these skills in Nebraska."

Matson said this lab will prepare students to work at the ADM facility in Columbus processing corn-syrup and ethanol. This expansion of the mechatronics program is intended to raise the popularity of this particular branch of the field. In addition, the campus was recently loaned a plastic injection machine from BD Manufacturing. The idea is to help increase students' experience working with such equipment and plastics.

“The intent is to get them a diploma and just get them more prepared for the mold making aspect,” Matson said of the plastic injection machine.

He added that when it comes to instrumentation, students “tend to gravitate more towards the electrical mechanical side of mechatronics than the instrumentation.”

In addition to expanding the program, the school is also looking to recruit additional staff. CCC-C Welding Technology Instructor Gary Senff plans to retire before the end of the year after 40 years at the school. Matson said the school is to hire his replacement and additional part-time mechatronics instructors, but added it could be difficult to fill such positions.

Although the school may struggle to find teachers, its students are having an easy time finding work. As Turman nears graduating, he plans on sticking with his current postilion. Recently he was promoted from a CNC operator to welder.

“I took the welding test there, passed it with flying colors because I’ve done similar things here,” Turman said. "I like where I’m at job-wise, and I have other plans for the future in that job,”

Braulio Castillo, of Columbus Hydraulics, said the company looks for students like Turman for recruitment purposes.

“We got two all-stars,” Castillo said about the student workers. “If they’re willing to give us at least 30 hours a week, we’re working to give them a shot.”

Castillo said the businesses try to work with students in hopes they'll stay on full-time once completing school.

“Their level of retaining the knowledge is great,” Castillo said. “It seems like they’re more willing to learn than other applicants.”

While some students may move back home after completing school, Matson said that isn’t typically the case for many.

“Most of our students stay in our 25 county area,” Matson said. “Ninety percent of our graduates stay in our area, which is quite a few.”

Eric Schucht is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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Eric Schucht earned his bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 2018. He has written for The Cottage Grove Sentinel, The Creswell Chronicle, The Pacific Northwest Inlander and The Roseburg News-Review.

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