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Wampler tours Rolls-Royce in England
He views education, manufacturing and research in action
Sunday, July 15, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Visiting Rolls-Royce plants in England last week convinced William Wampler that the New College Institute (NCI) is on the right path to prepare students for emerging high-tech industrial jobs.
Rolls-Royce is the world’s second-largest airplane engine maker. Wampler, NCI’s executive director and a former state senator, was invited by the company to tour its manufacturing, educational and research facilities in the British cities of Derby and Sheffield.
He saw how the company employs apprentice workers — some as young as 16 — who are being trained in designing and building jet engines.
Also last week, NCI announced that with help from Virginia State University (VSU), it is developing an Academy for Engineering and Technology for high school students. Courses they take in subjects such as calculus and impacts of technology on society will count toward college degrees.
Yet the curriculum is being designed so that students can earn certificates in some type of advanced manufacturing that will help them get jobs after they graduate. As they have the time and desire, they could return to NCI and earn other types of certificates and degrees to help them get better jobs.
Students also will be able to apply for paid summer internships with local high-tech companies such as RTI International Metals, which makes titanium jet engine parts for Rolls-Royce. Internships will play key roles in teaching the students, according to NCI officials.
Wampler said he hopes NCI can arrange for some interns to work — at its expense — at a Rolls-Royce plant near Petersburg as well as in England.
He noted that in England, he saw Rolls-Royce apprentices who range in age from teenagers to people in their 40s, all learning how to use sophisticated equipment in manufacturing processes.
Manufacturing used to involve people assembling products. Today, it often involves machines assembling products as employees monitor computerized equipment and, in Wampler’s words, “capture, analyze and manipulate data” to make sure the manufacturing lines run smoothly.
Programs in which apprentices learn in small on-site classes at companies where they work are common throughout Europe, he said.
He said NCI’s academy, although it will be based at the institute, “will be very closely aligned” with how manufacturing is taught on that continent.
Basing manufacturing education on a popular concept overseas could attract high-tech companies worldwide to Henry County and Martinsville, he indicated.
Having a plant in Virginia already, British-based Rolls-Royce is not likely to open a plant locally, Wampler admitted.
However, he estimated that if NCI can train about 100 people for advanced manufacturing careers within a few years, it could significantly help efforts to attract new industries. Such companies could include “downstream suppliers” such as RTI that service major companies elsewhere, such as Rolls-Royce, he said.
To his understanding, Wampler said RTI and Commonwealth Laminating, another local high-tech firm, already have jobs available that they cannot fill because they cannot find people with the necessary skills.
And their product lines likely will grow in the future and they will need more workers then, he said.
As a senator, Wampler was on a team that recruited Rolls-Royce to Virginia in 2007, and that led to his invitation to tour its England facilities.
NCI, he said, has “reached out to Rolls-Royce and CCAM, saying we believe we can be part of the solution to training the next generation of (industrial) workers.”
CCAM, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, is an industrial research center in Prince George County.
Wampler said they seem to be impressed with NCI’s commitment and plans.
He said he hopes Rolls-Royce will be willing to help NCI “secure cutting-edge manufacturing equipment” of the type used in its factories to help train students at the institute. Being able to hire people who already know how to use the equipment should spark companies’ interest in the area, he added.
Basically, if Rolls-Royce puts in a good word for NCI, equipment makers may be willing to let NCI use some of their devices indefinitely, Wampler said.
Wampler mentioned that NCI aims to work with Patrick Henry Community College to set up an advanced manufacturing education track for students who decide to pursue careers in that field after high school.