Outlook 2012: Riding the nano wave
Community college programs and new facilities are in place to prepare students for jobs
MALTA A two-year college degree will be enough training to land many of the region’s new nanotechnology jobs — and local community colleges are all gearing up to meet the demand.
Hudson Valley Community College’s TEC-SMART building in Malta has a high profile in the nanotechnology field, but all the region’s colleges are setting up nanotech programs.
SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury has its “Tech Valley Track,” while Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown has developed a career-focused electrical technology program, and Schenectady County Community College has a two-year associate’s degree program in nanoscale materials technology.
“Tech Valley is brimming with opportunity and excitement as cutting-edge companies (nanotech, information tech, biotech and superconductor) move into the Capital Region,” SCCC officials state in their online course catalogue.
Community college degrees will be suffi cient training to fill most technician jobs at companies like GlobalFoundries, which will continue hiring this year as it starts computer chip production in Malta.
GlobalFoundries officials have met in recent years with representatives of all the colleges, discussing the needs of the semiconductor industry. But Global-Foundries, while it will have at least 1,400 employees by late this year, is only part of the equation.
General Electric Global Research in Niskayuna and the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering in Albany also hired semiconductor program graduates for technician jobs, which can then lead to more training and better jobs.
“We give [students] the ability to get their foot in the door,” said Penny Hill, associate dean at HVCC and director of TEC-SMART.
Technicians with a two-year associate’s degree can earn $30,000 to $50,000 a year in high-tech industries, according to estimates by community college offi cials.
TEC-SMART is in a new building in the Saratoga Technology and Energy Park in Malta — a building so innovative in its use of recycled materials and alternative energy that it has earned a “platinum” certification — the highest possible — from the U.S. Green Buildings Council. The building, which opened in 2010, has laboratories for training in semiconductor manufacturing, photovoltaic solar, wind energy, geothermal energy, and alternative vehicle fuels.
The programs there are still getting their feet on the ground, in terms of attracting students. TEC-SMART has 260 enrolled students this spring, compared to 160 a year ago, Hill said, but there’s room for many more.
“I’m seeing next fall as being the year we really try to fill the place up,” Hill said.
Fred Strnisa, who teaches TEC-SMART’s semiconductor manufacturing class, said many of the students who enroll are in their 30s and seeking to train for a second career. They learn the principles of computer chip manufacturing, working in a mock clean room in the kind of “bunny suits” worn in real clean rooms, where purified materials need protection from human contact.
TEC-SMART is also hosting tours for high school students, looking to show them the potential of ca- reers in high-tech industries. It’s high school program, coordinated by the Ballston Spa Central School District, is expected to grow from 25 to 75 students this fall.
Not all the new high-tech jobs involve working in a clean room. Hill said companies like GlobalFoundries also need skilled technicians to maintain mechanical systems like the air- and water-handling systems.
The training will also qualify students for jobs at companies that service and supply GlobalFoundries and other large facilities.
“We’ve heard from service and supply companies that are looking for our graduates,” Hill said.
Farther west, Fulton-Montgomery Community College has created a Center for Engineering and Technology, which includes a state-ofthe-art demonstration clean room that opened in 2010.
“GlobalFoundries has already hired some of our graduates,” said FMCC President Dustin Swanger.
The FMCC program has growing enrollment, with 80 to 100 students currently signed up. Some students transfer to the University at Albany nanotechnology program, Swanger said, but others go directly into industry.
“All our discussion has been that an associate’s degree gets you into the manufacturing environment,” Swanger said.
FMCC expects that growth stemming from GlobalFoundries will have a direct impact over time on the employment prospects in Montgomery and Fulton counties.
Like HVCC, FMCC is seeing a lot of older students preparing for a career change.
“I’ve talked to maybe a halfdozen students who said they were going to leave the area until they heard about our program,” Swanger said.
A $625,000 grant from the National Science Foundation is helping to develop a coordinated program between FMCC and local high school students attending Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES in which the students can earn college credit.
“We’re always looking to increase our technology enrollment,” Swanger said.
In Queensbury, SUNY Adirondack, the former Adirondack Community College, has developed the “Tech Valley Track,” a program of engineering and other skills courses.
SUNY Adirondack is building a new classroom building in Wilton to meet growing demand in northern Saratoga County, including demand for technology training.
SCCC, meanwhile, has a nanoscale materials technology degree program that provides students with a foundation in materials science, chemistry, physics, mathematics and electronics.
The program has grown from two students three years ago to 45 students today, said Assistant Professor Tania Cabrera. She said six students from the current class have already been hired locally, even before graduation. Global-Foundries, Albany Nanotech and General Electric have all hired SCCC graduates.
“There’s a pretty big demand for these kinds of skills. The top graduates get snapped up,” Cabrera said.
The college received a $1 million state Senate grant to renovate two laboratories for nanotech training as part of a joint venture undertaken with Union College and Super-Power Inc., the Schenectady-based developer of electrical superconductors.
SCCC has also established a oneyear storage battery technology certification program to prepare students for jobs at the new GE battery plant in Schenectady.