Every Saturday morning at IMS Gear in Virginia Beach, Tidewater Community College transforms a portion of the high performance manufacturing company into a college classroom.

The instructor is TCC’S Rick Dyer, a Navy veteran whose machine shop days date back to New England 40 years ago. His students are machinists from IMS Gear, Sumitomo Machinery Corp. of America and Busch LLC, all taking part in an innovative partnership that benefits everyone involved.

The companies are not competitors; however, they require a similar skill set. TCC provides the instruction and curriculum, which Dyer wrote, tailoring it to the employers’ needs. IMS Gear supplies lab space, metal materials and necessary machinery at no cost. The employees make themselves more valuable to their employers and improve their opportunity for advancement.

Including employees from Sumitomo and Busch extends the collaborative effort of this unique partnership, which started as a pilot program last spring.

“This model is particularly relevant for small- and medium-sized employers who might not have the resources to provide direct skills training to their workforce or who might not have the need for a full-scale apprenticeship program,” said TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani.

TCC’s Rick Dyer offers hands-on, individualized support to his students, who are employees of IMS Gear, Sumitomo, and Busch LLC.
TCC’s Rick Dyer offers hands-on, individualized
support to his students, who are employees of IMS
Gear, Sumitomo, and Busch LLC.

Twelve students completed the inaugural program in May and moved on to Phase II, taught from 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. A second program on Tuesdays and Thursdays taught by TCC’s Brian Stevenson is an introductory class for a second cohort of employees from each of the three companies, and a third phase focusing on numeric controls will begin this spring.

After the employees complete the second phase, they are prepared to take the National Institute for Metalworking Skills exam, which allows them to earn a valuable and portable credential.

“I’ve gotten two promotions since I started the program,” said Sumitomo’s Josh Brozo, who credits the classes with giving him a better understanding of his company as a whole. “So I would have to say it’s working out pretty good.”

His colleague John Anderson agrees, noting that while his job at Sumitomo has him focus on making shafts all day, “Thanks to this class, I see a broader array than what I would at work. I have a better understanding of the machines overall.”

While classes includes lecture and written material, the majority of them are hands-on, with Dyer offering individualized attention as questions arise. The friendly atmosphere encourages the students to learn from others. “They’re teaching one another, and getting out of the habit of keeping knowledge to themselves,” Dyer said.

“It’s a win, win. TCC is helping the companies get the skills they need, and the employees are learning the skills that will allow them to be successful.”