New BBCC program proving popular

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Tom Willingham explains some of the details of the new Big Bend Community College data center training program to college trustees Thursday.

MOSES LAKE — A new program at Big Bend Community College that provides students training they need to work at data centers is proving so popular BBCC is adding a second class.

Instructor Tom Willingham updated the BBCC trustees at the regular meeting Thursday.

The one-year program offers training, and two certificates, in data system operation and maintenance. Students who complete the program will have the training necessary for entry-level jobs at a data center, with starting salaries at the data centers in Quincy at about $40,000 to $50,000 per year, Willingham said. Students also have opportunities to get additional industry certifications through third-party vendors, he said.

The college received a grant in 2016 for its computer science program, Willingham said, and BBCC officials planned to work on a new program for data center training in fall 2018. But Willingham said he talked to operators of the data centers in Grant County, and they were looking at options in Wenatchee and Yakima, as well as talking to BBCC. In light of that, Willingham said he thought the program needed to start before 2018 to be successful.

As a result a pilot program started this fall. The college’s initial outreach generated a “huge response,” Willingham said. “The response was awesome.”

The response was good enough that the class filled up, and currently there’s a waiting list. Some computer science classes filled up for the first time in the program’s history, he said. The response prompted BBCC officials to add a second class that will start winter quarter.

Willingham said his idea is to make the training program adaptable to any business. “I feel strongly it has to be a scalable model.” And with that, the specific training should be driven by the needs of local employers, he said.

“This pilot’s more important than just what we’re doing with the data centers in Quincy,” he said.

Students should be able to meet with prospective employers, not once or twice but frequently throughout the year, Willingham said. In addition, students should get support from their advisors, both for academics and preparing for professional careers.

In answer to a question from trustee Jon Lane, Willingham said the certificate the students receive isn’t transferable to academic credits. The program focuses on workforce training, he said.

In his opinion, Willingham said, it’s working because it’s meeting the needs of students, business and the community. In addition, students are getting technical and business skills, meeting with possible employers and support from the advisor.

The program is valuable to the business partners because it reduces the cost of recruiting and gives them a chance to meet prospective employees. For the community, it provides more opportunities – most students in the program are from Grant and Adams counties, he said.

The challenge will be maintaining the relationships with the existing partners, and building new ones, he said, and figuring out the best class schedule to provide maximum opportunity for students.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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