COTC, Intel benefit from budding relationship – and student interest in training programs

A typical weekday morning for Maddix Curliss begins at about 5 a.m. He arrives at Lincoln Electric Automation in Columbus by 6:30 – while most 19-year-olds are still sound asleep – for shifts as a service intern, learning how to program robots. When he finishes work at 10 a.m., he heads back to his hometown of Newark in time for afternoon classes at Central Ohio Technical College.

Newark resident Maddix Curliss and his family were excited to hear about Intel’s arrival in New Albany, noting what it could mean for the local economy and for Maddix personally.
Newark resident Maddix Curliss and his family were excited to hear about Intel’s arrival in New Albany, noting what it could mean for the local economy and for Maddix personally.

Curliss’s ambition can be attributed at least in part to natural discipline and maturity. But perhaps it also can be attributed to the fact that he is working toward a clear goal: Get hired by Intel.

“It sounds like the perfect job opportunity,” he said. “A lot of people in my field tend to jump around to different jobs. If I got into Intel, I think that’d be my solid job that I’d want to stick with.”

When Curliss enrolled at COTC last fall, he did not know that the world’s largest semiconductor company had plans to build facilities virtually in his backyard – 18 miles west of Newark near Johnstown. But word is out now for younger students interested in engineering, and COTC is one of the many postsecondary institutions expected to benefit from Intel’s arrival in New Albany.

Intel’s coming to Licking County

On Jan. 21, Intel announced a $20 billion investment in building two plants - called fabs - in Licking County. Intel expects to hire 7,000 construction workers and 3,000 plant employees throughout the building process.

Speaking to a group of Ohio chief executive officers on May 12, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger expressed hopes of ultimately investing $100 billion into building eight to 10 fabs in Licking County. He said the plan was contingent on whether Congress would pass the CHIPS Act, a bill that would give the semiconductor industry $52.7 billion in aid. It passed, and on Aug. 9, President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS Act into law.

If Intel follows through with its plan to build up to 10 facilities in New Albany, it could hire 15,000 workers. Cindi Harper, Intel’s vice president of talent planning and acquisition, estimated in June that two-thirds of the employees hired to work in the first two plants would come from the Midwest. If the same would be true for the additional plants, Intel could provide jobs for 10,000 Midwesterners, plus thousands more for construction. The opportunities for young Ohioans are not lost on local school administrators.

COTC president: Intel’s arrival “welcomed”

Central Ohio Technical College, founded in 1971, offers associate degrees in arts, science, applied business, applied science, and technical studies, as well as an accelerated bachelor’s degree for diagnostic medical sonography. It has four campuses, located in Coshocton, Mount Vernon, Newark and Reynoldsburg, known as the Pataskala Campus.

John Berry took over as president of COTC in 2019. He and other school leaders anticipated significant economic development in the areas they serve prior to Intel’s announcement.

“That whole southwest Licking County corridor was already in major growth mode,” he said.

Berry concedes, however, that no one could have seen a $20 billion semiconductor facilities investment coming.

“Is it welcomed? Absolutely,” he said. “But is it an awful lot of work to catch up to knowing how to best serve? Yes, that is a process as well.”

John Berry, Central Ohio Technical College President.
John Berry, Central Ohio Technical College President.

Prior to Intel’s Jan. 21 announcement, Curliss planned to leverage COTC connections into internship opportunities, then working hard enough as an intern to earn himself a full-time job. Now, he envisions his professional career starting – and ending – with Intel. Proximity to home, company prestige and the prospect of long-term stability draw him to the tech mammoth.

“As far as I can see, Intel is going to be amazing for our community,” Curliss said. “It’s going to give so many people jobs that weren’t here before.”

For Curliss and other aspiring engineers in Licking County, Intel’s arrival is convenient and exciting.

“It’s crazy, the timing that this all occurred,” he said.

A relationship emerges

Intel met with representatives from Ohio’s 23 two-year colleges in May. At the meeting, the schools shared their curricula, and Intel shared what it will look for in future employees. This gave the two-year colleges the opportunity to make curricular adjustments that would better prepare students for engineering careers with Intel.

After the meeting, Berry reported back to COTC with good news: The school’s existing curriculum was Intel-approved. COTC did not need to create an “absolutely new academic program line” for engineering students, he said.

Curliss recalls hearing a similar message from Intel representatives who visited campus.

“It was kind of incidental,” he said. “We work with microchips and different transistors and things like that, and that all perfectly matches with what Intel needs.”

Since the May meeting, COTC and Intel have established what Berry describes as a “standing connection.” He stays in regular contact with Emily Smith, Intel Ohio’s public affairs director, and Jim Evers, Intel Ohio’s general manager. Communication comes with incentive on both sides: Just as Berry wants COTC students to have opportunities with Intel, Intel needs to hire a lot of workers, many of whom Smith says will come from two-year colleges.

“At our Ohio facility, 70% of the 3,000 Intel jobs will be manufacturing technicians, which are truly the heart and soul of Intel,” Smith wrote in an email. “Manufacturing technicians typically hold a two-year degree in a STEM discipline and handle regular preventive maintenance.”

For students such as Curliss, lucrative earnings provide another incentive for joining Intel. The average annual salary for the 3,000 incoming workers is expected to be $135,000.

Spreading the word about a growing field

COTC is capitalizing on the opportunity to use its standing with Intel as a selling point to prospective students. It hosted open houses in Licking, Knox and Coshocton counties, where Berry saw “a couple hundred people” at each campus. Some students already have been sold on the idea of using COTC degrees as a gateway to Intel careers.

Enrollment in the school’s engineering programs has begun to grow already. Last fall, there were 97 students enrolled in the school’s engineering programs. Now, there are 117. The growth will almost surely continue. This fall, COTC received 164 applications from students intending to study engineering, compared to 98 last fall. These numbers include students in the College Credit Plus program, which allows students to earn high school and college credit simultaneously, and those who are both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking.

Engineering courses at COTC include Electric Transmission and Distribution, Linear Integrated Circuits, Digital Electronics and Technology Integration Support. In these classes, Curliss is learning how to solve real-world problems.

“In (Digital Electronics) we study how to utilize tools such as transistors and diodes in a circuit to create an electronic with a desired purpose,” he said.

COTC is working to strengthen relationships with local high schools. This fall, the school hosted four “Superintendent Summits” aimed at teaching high school officials more about College Credit Plus and how COTC can help students toward engineering careers. Cumulatively, 32 school officials spanning 23 districts attended the summits, and representatives from roughly 20 districts have asked for follow-up meetings.

COTC representatives encourage prospective students interested in Intel careers to consider pursuing the school’s electrical engineering degree or industrial electrician certification.

All throughout the country, STEM fields look more enticing than ever for students examining future career paths. According to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2018, STEM employment grew 79% from 1990 to that year, while overall employment grew just 34%. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts STEM employment will grow another 8% from 2019 to 2029.

COTC is awaiting the results of what Berry described as a market analysis project that Intel is working on. He expects the project to detail salary information and the day-to-day functions of an Intel engineer. He looks forward to sharing the information with current and prospective COTC students.

Jack Nimesheim writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism Program, which is funded in part by The Mellon Foundation.

This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: COTC, Intel benefit from budding relationship