Chris Jackson was already about half way into a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Nashville back home to Grayson when he got the call.
Was it too soon? He’d just left the office where his Ramsay Corporation Mechanical Aptitude Test had taken place, being told he would hear by the end of the next day if he passed muster.
The former AK Steel employee was told in advance of making the initial trip to take the test that a 60 percent pass rate was required. He was also told the average pass rate was only 62-64 percent, a clear sign the test was more than difficult for most who attempted it.
“What do you think about the test you took?” the recruiter asked, a somewhat negative tone in her voice, Jackson recalled.
Jackson replied, “Well, I’m going to be honest. There would be no way I could have passed this test if I hadn’t just got done with the Advanced Integrated Technology program.”
It turns out, Jackson’s education at Ashland Community and Technical College helped him score more than just average on the test. He scored a whopping 90 percent, the highest score the recruiter had ever seen, she told him.
“I about wrecked my car,” Jackson said. “Are you kidding me?”
Jackson said while taking the test, he did find a lot of the questions fell in line with the AIT curriculum.
“The more I went through the test, the more I realized that the things that were on the test were exactly the things I had learned throughout the AIT program,” he said. “A lot of the questions they were asking I had already seen.”
Two days later, Jackson was on a phone interview with a panel of managers at the Electrolux plant in Nashville. Soon after that, an offer letter followed, giving the salary and benefits details for a process technician position. He will train to install and maintain brand new equipment in a $250 million expansion of the plant, he said.
Having already interviewed and been offered jobs at two other major manufacturing companies, Jackson accepted the job at Electrolux, citing they met his salary expectations as well as an opportunity for advancement down the line.
The 43-year-old started at Electrolux on June 2, just days after ACTC’s originally-scheduled graduation date.
“I always told everybody the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was have kids, until I went back to school at 41,” Jackson, married and a father of two boys, said.
Jackson was one of the first students to enroll in ACTC’s AIT program, which had it first semester in August 2018. A former AK Steel employee, Jackson was among hundreds laid off from the plant in December 2017. He had worked there for 11 years.
Not wanting to take the easy road to new employment, Jackson chose what is considered one of ACTC’s most difficult programs.
The AIT program is a four-semester program with a total of 60 credit hours and is a program of study that employs the principles of manufacturing and technology integration. Manufacturing topics include robotics, programmable logic controller (PLC) programming, drive configuration, electrical motor controls, hydraulics and pneumatics, mechanical drive systems, critical thinking and communication.
During the first semester, students can expect to take 15 hours of courses including general education courses, technical core requirements and electives. The first semester plan includes some of the most difficult classes: technical algebra and trigonometry and applied physics.
It wasn’t easy, Jackson said, but thanks to the support of faculty and staff at ACTC, he was able to succeed.
“I talked to people like Megan Horne and Ron McDavid (Student Support Services), Richard Merritt (academic division coordinator) and Drake Cox (physics tutor). If it hadn’t been for all those people, I would have never made it.”
Jackson also took a page from Warren Buffet’s book and “surrounded himself with good people'' in the program.
“If it hadn’t been for people like Aaron Stark, and Christina Rideout, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said, complimenting his classmates.
He and Stark became very close friends during the program. Jackson even stayed with Stark in Bowling Green the night before his interview at Electrolux.
Another success story, Stark had just moved to Bowling Green to take a job at Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products. He applied right before graduation and was employed shortly after.
The 31-year-old Ashland bartender turned ACTC student landed four other job offers before deciding on the rolling aluminum mill in Bowling Green. Stark credited his AIT degree for making his job applications stand out from the rest.
“Almost every single job I applied for required experience, and that was something I didn’t really have, as far as manufacturing,” Stark said. “I was a bartender for 13 years before getting where I’m at now. So even though I had the grades, every single interview I had, they all required 2-5 years of experience. But they said with the curriculum they have seen, and the vast amount of equipment we’ve been able to get our hands on, they said that alone counts for a lot of experience.”
Stark said because of what he learned in ACTC’s AIT program, he could hit the ground running at Kobe.
A previous physics major right out of high school, Stark said the AIT program married his love of math and science with the hands-on aspects of manufacturing.
“But I still didn’t know what to expect,” Stark said. “On day one, I get in there and it’s this gigantic lab. One of the coolest things was watching that lab be just this gigantic concrete room and metal walls. And we watched it grow. We got carpet, we got a break room and all these machines. They let you learn if you wanted to learn. There would be days when I would be done with class at noon, but I’d be there until 4 or 5 just tinkering, learning something a little more.”
Stark also said he formed bonds with his classmates and instructors, which will last a long time, highlighting his friendship with Jackson. He also encouraged anyone who is thinking of going to college for the first time, or back to finish a degree, that it was worth it.
“I always said I would go back to school and I would always make an excuse. About a week or two into the program, I thought, why didn’t I do this sooner,” Stark said. “We got through it, there were growing pains. But that’s just how it is. Every single job interview that I had said they aren’t used to seeing candidates with this much experience on this much equipment. I say go for it. It’s not easy, but if you really put your mind to it, you’re going to get out of there knowing more than you thought you could. For the time and money, you can’t get a better education.”
In the first graduating class of ACTC’s AIT program, 48 students earned the Associate of Applied Science degree. Program coordinator Mike Tackett said graduates have been getting jobs across multiple types of industry including Marathon, Toyota, Kobe, Electrolux, Vesuvius and Vertiv.
“Students have told me they got the job they wanted because the employers were impressed with the skill sets taught in Advanced Integrated Technology,” Tackett said. “Plus, the Tri-State Building Trades and Enerfab will soon be signing an agreement to focus on hiring AIT students.”
For those interested in enrolling in the AIT program, the last day to submit an application for fall enrollment at ACTC is Aug. 3. Classes begin on Aug. 17.