Solving the Process Technologies Skills-Gap in Texas' Upper Panhandle

Friday, April 6, 2018

Overview

Companies in Texas’ upper panhandle are in dire need to fill a skills-gap and train employees in various disciplines, especially process technologies and instrumentation due to the strong presence of refineries. A local institution, Frank Phillips College of Borger, Texas, applied for and received a JET grant to purchase equipment for their Career and Technical Education Program, including a Process Technology program. The learning systems were purchased from Amatrol, the world’s leader in skills-based, interactive technical learning. In the past calendar year, 250 students have received process technologies training and the program is lauded by local companies. In fact, Phillips 66 has been so impressed with the program that they have brought in components from their plant, interfaced Amatrol’s units with banana jacks, and showed plant-specific devices and PLCs.

Introduction and Problem Definition

Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas, named after the founder of Phillips 66, is a community college that serves the ten northernmost counties of the Texas Panhandle. These counties are home to 85,481 residents (2015 US Census estimate) spread across 10,000 square miles. This sparse population density (8.5 citizens per square mile versus 79.6 per square mile in the rest of Texas) makes higher education and training opportunities difficult due to the inconvenient distances between residents and training centers. In fact, when these ten counties are compared against the US average, the population has a drastically lower percentage of High School graduates or higher (78.8% versus 86.7%) and Bachelor Degree or higher (19% versus 29.8%) (2010 US Census). Speaking of this problem, the College has stated that, “(Local) Individuals possess a solid work ethic, but low levels of educational attainment and income characterize the service area. Frank Phillips College is the only hope many area residents have of breaking the cycle of poverty and unstable
employment.” (Department of Education Grant Application 2003)

This same area is home to several companies such as Chevron Phillips Chemical, Hilmar Cheese, North Plains Electric Cooperative, and others. Speaking to the needs of these companies, David Carr, Dean of Career and Technology at Frank Phillips College, stated, “This new generation of technical workers is required to know more than ever and be proficient in a variety of skills. Locally, there is a growing petrochemical industry with refineries, oil and gas process facilities, and dairies and cheese processing facilities.”

Solution

Working with local companies like Chevron Phillips Chemical, Hilmar Cheese, Phillips 66, and Solvay, Frank Phillips College discovered a need for additional skilled workers, especially in the oil and gas industry and specifically hands-on instrumentation and process technology skills. Additionally, in the words of Tim Fangman, an instructor at the College, “These companies informed us that these skilled workers needed specific hands-on training that Amatrol equipment could provide.”

To fill the needs of local industries, Frank Phillips College applied for a Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant and received funding. According to an article from the Borger News-Herald, “the grant will be used to purchase equipment for Frank Phillips College’s Career and Technical Education Program,” which included, “a large set of equipment to train for Process Technology.”

This Process Technology equipment was purchased from Amatrol, a Jeffersonville, Indiana-based developer, and manufacturer of technical education curriculum and technical simulators. Specifically, the equipment included:

  • Level / Flow Process Control Learning System (T5552)
  • Temperature Process Control Learning System (T5553)
  • Analytical Process Control Learning System (T5554)
  • Pressure Process Control Learning System (T5555)
  • Portable PLC Combined Troubleshooting – Allen‐Bradley CompactLogix L32 Learning System(990‐PAB53F)
  • PLC Process Control – Allen‐Bradley CompactLogix L32 Learning System (99‐PCAB53)

Outcomes

The systems and curricula listed above combine to form Frank Phillips College’s Process Technology Certificate program, which has been, “praised by industry for the quality of students graduating from (this) program.” Specifically, Fangman stated, “The four companies involved (Chevron, Solvay, Hilmar, and Phillips 66) have praised us for highly technical hands-on training in the instrumentation and process technology field.”

Over the past year, 250 students and employees from local companies have completed the Process Technology Certificate program. Fangman said, “This is a very significant number of people going through our training program compared to the average of 100 students that we normally have. We have seen a significant number of current, local industry employees enrolling in our programs.”

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Amatrol

One of the biggest challenges facing the workforce is a skilled worker shortage. For this reason, Amatrol is dedicated to providing schools with learning solutions that will cover applicable STEM knowledge and advanced manufacturing topics and skills.

Amatrol develops cutting edge, interactive training tools for to equip individuals with the skills technical equipment, solve problems and adapt to a rapidly-changing work environments. Amatrol's training systems are created and built by experts in their field, integrating the best practices in training and education to deliver knowledge and technical skills for today's careers. The systems include highly interactive eLearning, hands-on simulators, and more to train students for many diverse industries such as manufacturing, oil and gas, packaging, etc.

Didactic organizations such as colleges, universities, and high schools use these made-in-the-USA products to teach individuals technical and workplace skills ranging from entry level basic technical skills to advanced technology troubleshooting for both degree and certification preparation. The solutions range from engaging high school students in the learning of basic science and math to teaching hands-on skills in the latest, highly sophisticated motor drives. Amatrol’s learning solutions include interactive multimedia as well as print-based student learning materials, virtual trainers, teacher’s guides, industrial quality hands-on training equipment, and instructor training. Real world components are used in the training equipment along with in-depth curricula to build the workforce’s next generation.

Amatrol offers a rich array of multimedia and eLearning on a broad array of topics including: power and energy, controls, manufacturing processes, design, fluids, fluid power, thermal, electrical, electrical motors, mechanical, communications, robotics, computer integrated manufacturing, mechatronics, and automation. In addition to learning systems geared toward post-secondary and industrial customers, Amatrol also offers systems specifically designed for high schools.

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