Gateway’s Urban Metro Campus to ‘get some of the trades back down here’

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Gateway Community and Technical College is a pillar within the Northern Kentucky education landscape, providing countless people with the necessary skills training to build a successful career in the area.

When Gateway’s leadership recognized the lack of reach in trade education for potential students in the region’s river city public schools of Holmes, Ludlow, Lloyd, Newport, Bellevue and Dayton, they realized something needed to be done. A YouScience 2021 Student Ability Report showed that students in the river city school districts have an aptitude and interest in manufacturing career fields, but require exposure and accessibility in order to want to pursue them.

Now the school’s Urban Metro Campus in Covington is providing those students with vital manufacturing and trade-oriented educational resources that were previously unavailable. The campus was unveiled last week.

“How do we give high school students and underemployed people an opportunity to come in and take a few classes,” said Sam Collier, dean of Manufacturing and Transportation Technologies at Gateway.

Located along Madison Avenue in the main artery of Covington, the Urban Metro Campus grants closer access for urban students to learn skills such as industrial maintenance, computerized manufacturing, welding and HVAC.

“We didn’t have anything down here (Covington),” Collier said. “The idea was to get some of the trades back down here.”

A rendering of the new manufacturing and welding center. Photo provided | Gateway.

The new welding and manufacturing labs at the Urban Metro Campus are designed to allow for additional courses that will lead to more short-term certificates and credentials that will steer students to the high-demand, higher wage, industrial career opportunities in the region.

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“Providing the community with access to programs like these gives students a pathway to employment in high growth, high demand sectors without them having to guess or question what they will do or where they will go once they graduate,” Gateway President Dr. Fernando Figueroa said.

Funds from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund were used to reconfigure the first-floor space of the Urban Metro Campus. The center features new educational technology, a redesigned interior, satellite classrooms and a room with multiple welding bays. This fall semester’s classes began on Monday of last week.

A second rendering of the new manufacturing and welding center. Photo provided | Gateway.

The center’s new technology gives students hands-on opportunities to practice their trade. For example, Gateway welding students attending class at the Urban Metro Campus now have access to four simulators that allow students to weld in virtual reality.

“The stuff is brand new so I’m still figuring it out,” joked welding instructor Logan Justice.

Next to the virtual reality welding simulators are multiple different versions of advanced HVAC training devices. One such example is a thermal unit trainer. This device gives HVAC students an inside look on how the inside of a house is heated, and how temperature changes effect the heating inside the home.

The welding center features multiple welding bays with included safety technology. Photo by Kenton Hornbeck | LINK nky

Other HVAC educational devices include air conditioning trouble shooting devices, which have a safety stop system that helps reinforce proper procedures for students. The interactive devices feature digital curriculum that lets students work on assignments outside of the classroom, then come into the education center and perform their assignments live.

For industrial maintenance and industrial electrical students, Gateway offers suitcase trainers which allow students to work on subjects like hydraulics in a compact space.

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In total, the main classroom in the manufacturing and welding center can fit up to 36 students.

Welding students using their new virtual reality welding trainers. Photo by Kenton Hornbeck | LINK nky

Toward the back of the first floor, Gateway has installed a room which includes multiple welding bays for students. Included in each individual bay is required safety equipment such as welding masks and covers.

Collier said COVID-19 impacted the way Gateway could deliver their manufacturing and welding education, which generally requires students to learn hands-on in the classroom.

“COVID taught us we didn’t know what to do when we had to send everybody home,” Collier said. “Having backup plans means that at least we can have them doing the digital part of the assignments until we can get them back in.”

Suitcase trainers used for industrial maintenance and electrical maintenance. Photo by Kenton Hornbeck | LINK nky

To combat the negative affects of the pandemic on the classroom, the manufacturing and welding center was designed with portable educational devices that students can use, some of which are set up wheels to make them easier to move around in case of required social distancing. The machining program is the only program that doesn’t have portable educational devices.

“We had to set it up so we could spread those simulators out to the next plugs so students wouldn’t be anywhere near each other,” Collier said. “Everything’s on wheels.”

The manufacturing and welding center is still being finished, with Collier telling LINK nky he expects the entire first floor of the Urban Metro Campus to be fully up and running by October.

Figueroa recognized the importance this type of skills education provides for the regional economy, and spoke about it publicly at last Thursday’s Covington Business Council Luncheon.

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“Middle skills are now finally in the urban core,” Figueroa said. “We had students that were in the river cities that have been totally uncomfortable or unable to get to the Boone Campus where all these facilities have been in the past.”

Devices used for HVAC education. Photo by Kenton Hornbeck | LINK nky

Figueroa said 2,600 students exist in grades 9 through 12 within the river city public high schools, representing an important demographic of manufacturing worker for Northern Kentucky. According to Figueroa, Gateway leadership has seen Kentucky Education to Workforce GIS Application studies showing there are approximately 13,097 total manufacturing jobs in Boone County, 5,676 in Kenton County, and 1,797 in Campbell County. That same studies state that by 2030, an estimated 714 new manufacturing jobs will be created in Boone County, 240 in Kenton County and 33 in Campbell County.

The issue is there are not enough skilled workers to fill those manufacturing roles in the region due to impending demographic drought, which is defined as a growing number of companies depending on a shrinking number of workers. Providing river city students with access to critical education to fill these jobs is a vital economic task for the region.

“We look around and wonder why we have so many open jobs,” Figueroa said. “We don’t have the babies. We don’t have folks, so that means that every hand on deck.”

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