Peoria company educates own workforce

Christina Smith
First class: Pictured, from left, are: Ari Marshall, 26, of San Jose; Rob Alexander, 27, of Chillicothe; Ryan Avery, 22, of Morton; and Ben Murdoch, 18, of Washington. Murdoch and the other Illinois Central College students are the first group to participate in Advanced Technology Services’ multi-skilled technical career program, which offers students a full-time job with the company upon successfully completing the 10-week program.

With a shortage of skilled maintenance workers across the county, one North Peoria company decided to train its own future work force, by reaching out to high school graduates in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties.

Advanced Technology Services Inc., which has offices throughout the country and overseas, started a Multi-Skilled Technical Career Program in January.

Ryan Avery, 22, of Morton, said his wife, Rebecca Avery, told him about the program after seeing information about it online.

“It’s a good trade to get into because there are so many skills they teach you,” Avery said.

After completing the program, Avery said he would like to use the opportunity to find a job out of state.

Similar to Avery, Ben Murdoch, 18, of Washington, also found out about the program through a relative.

Murdoch said the best part of the program is learning several skills, such as electrical and mechanical knowledge.

“Finding skilled people is our No. 1 challenge,” Bob Avila, technical training manager for ATS, said.

Avila said company officials began talking with Illinois Central College officials early last year about offering high school graduates, ICC students, former military members and displaced workers a training program leading up to a full-time position at ATS.

A group of eight ICC students started the 40-week program Jan. 14. and attend classes at ICC for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday.

By the end of the program, participants complete 42 hours of college credit courses, which can be applied to either an associtate’s degree in industrial electrical technology or maintenance mechanic technology.

Students who successfully complete the program receive a mechanical/electrical maintenance occupational certificate.

“Our goal is to have 16 students in each class or enrollment period,” Avila said.

“Because of the short window of time we had to get the program started this semester, we have fewer students in the first class.”

For this year, Avila said the company’s goal is to have 40 people go through the program, with even more students completing the program next year.

The next class begins June 2, with interested students having until May 16 to apply.

Avila said the program is offered three times a year, with another class starting in August.

“We plan to do this until we saturate ICC and then go to another community college and do the same thing in another state,” Avila said.

Program benefits

Anyone involved in the program has his or her books, lab fees and equipment, which equals about $1,500, supplied free by ATS. Students only have to pay about $3,150 for tuition.

Jessica Bulfer, program development specialist for ATS, said ATS offers a scholarship for students who are related to a company employee.

“We will pay for all of a student’s tuition if he or she applies and is eligible for the scholarship,” Bulfer said.

Once a graduate from the program becomes a full-time employee with the company, he or she can receive tuition reimbursement for continuing with a two- or four-year degree.

Besides classroom training, students also receive hands-on experience in troubleshooting, welding and working with hydraulic and pneumatic systems.  

“If employed with us, a student will start anywhere from $14 to $17 per hour, depending on previous education and experience,” Bulfer said, adding there are opportunities for salary increases.

“Our top level technicians, without a four-year degree, can earn around $60,000 to $70,000 a year.”

Avila said he also teaches customer service and professional development skills for about three weeks of the program, with the rest of the time spent on technical knowledge taught by accredited ICC professors.

In the near future, Avila said students will also receive classroom and hands-on instruction at ATS, located at 8201 N. University.

Untapped resource

Although there is one female in the first class of students, Bulfer said she is working to target females for the program.

“This is a good career for females because they tend to be more detailed-oriented and analytical, which are the type of people we are looking for,” Avila said.

Avila said several female technicians work for the company in Mossville.

“We try to generate careers in manufacturing because it helps vitalize the community,” Avila said.

About the company

Started April 1, 1985, ATS began as an off-shoot of Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria and is now a leading factory maintenance provider, along with offering information technology and repair services.

Avila said technicians work as a separate department within  a customer’s facility, such as Caterpillar.

ATS also has locations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Mexico, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

In Central Illinois, Bulfer said the company employs about 450 factory technicians, which is ATS’ fastest growing area.

“On any given day, you can visit our Web site, www. advancedtech.com, and find about 60 to 80 job openings,” Avila said.

Right now, Bulfer said one of ATS’ biggest need is diesel technicians in Mossville.

“Most companies we work for turn their maintenance over to us because we are skilled at training and hiring maintenance employees, while their main core is producing products,” Avila said.

Avila said some technicians work third shift, while others might work three 12-hour days and one six-hour day, with time off in between.

Despite the program at ICC being new, it is not the only college training program ATS offers.

Dick Blaudow, the CEO of ATS who started the company, and his wife, Brigitte, started an engineering leadership program with his alma mater, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Students who graduate from a community college in Illinois and who plan to attend SIU can receive a two-year scholarship that covers $14,000 of tuition and fee costs.

Included in the program is a paid summer internship at ATS in Peoria.

Spreading the word

Since the program just started, Avila said Bulfer has been talking to school counselors and officials to tell them about the program.

“I have talked to about 27 different school counselors and am targeting 36 schools throughout Central Illinois,” Bulfer said.

Bulfer said she has also done a few student presentations that allow her to talk with high school students directly.

For more information about the program, visit www. advancedtech.com/ticket, or call 866-275-6447. Students interested in the program can also visit ICC’s Web site, www.icc.edu, for information.