NCTC partners with American Crystal, Philadelphia Macaroni, others to develop new manufacturing program

Curriculum combines automation, programming, electronics and mechanical training to meet industry needs.

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. - This August, Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC) will launch a new two-year Manufacturing Process Technology A.A.S. program the college developed in close consultation with several nationally recognized manufacturing companies, including American Crystal Sugar, Philadelphia Macaroni Company, Cirrus Aircraft and Marvin Windows. An open house is scheduled for Wednesday, May 3, from 5-7 p.m. at the East Grand Forks campus, where interested students can visit the campus, meet the instructors and learn more about the new program.

As today’s manufacturing operations continue to boost their quality and efficiency through the utilization of increasingly complex automated and robotic equipment, the need for skilled technicians capable of operating, maintaining and troubleshooting such equipment has also increased. Yet, local opportunities to learn these skills have not kept pace, presenting a significant hiring challenge for companies that rely largely on the local workforce.

It's what a community college should be doing ... responding to the demands from local industry, helping them find the trained talent they need in their workforce.

“We were approached by industries in Grand Forks, who identified the need for us,” Program Instructor Andrew Dahlen explained. “Crystal Sugar, Simplot, Philadelphia Macaroni, etc. ... everybody is using the same technologies, just different applications. They all need technicians—people that can either troubleshoot and maintain automated equipment, or people that can develop and operate new automated equipment. From a maintenance perspective, this program is also a great fit because grads will be able to troubleshoot robots, motors, manufacturing equipment and the software, too.”

According to Dahlen, the new program is part electronic and part mechanical. Half of the curriculum focuses on automation, programming and electronics, while the other half is strictly mechanical in nature. Graduates will be equipped with both electrical and mechanical skills, preparing them for manufacturing careers in industries ranging from agriculture and food production, to wind power and aviation. As Dahlen said, “if they’re making anything, they will be able to utilize our graduates.”
We haven't been able to find enough maintenance candidates to fill the positions we have open.

Tony Pierce, Plant Manager for Philadelphia Macaroni Company, says the entire region is in need. “We haven’t been able to find enough maintenance candidates to fill the positions we have open. It took a couple years to work with the other companies in town and Northland to develop this program, but the new curriculum is outstanding. The new classes have some electical training, but it’s much more focused on the mechanical aspects of the job… being able to rebuild a gearbox, understand manufacturing technology, some basic fabrication ability, etc. It’s much more in line with what they’re going to be doing on the job.”

The new Manufacturing Technology Program is not the first time Northland has teamed up with industry leaders to develop curriculum in direct response to local career opportunities. The college worked closely with Digi-Key to develop a two-year Electronics Technology program to equip students with the electrical, programming and automation expertise required at Digi-Key’s electronic component production facility. “It’s what a community college should be doing,” Dahlen said, “responding to the demands from local industry, helping them find the trained talent they need in their workforce.” While that program provides an excellent electronic engineering foundation, it doesn’t offer the mechanical or maintenance training needed in a majority of manufacturing operations.
There's always been a high demand for manufacturing or process type technicians.

“For American Crystal Sugar, there’s always been a high demand for manufacturing or process type technicians,” Factory Manager Alan Zola said. “It’s been a hard position to fill the last five to ten years. We do a lot [of training] on our own. It’s a great addition to have a program like this where a student can get the background to get a job in a processing or manufacturing plant… and it’s not just catered to one manufacturing process in the valley. This program takes a well-rounded approach so students can step into any of these operations and do a great job.”

The entire community is invited to the open house this Wednesday, May 3, from 5-7 p.m. on the East Grand Forks campus of Northland Community and Technical College to learn about the future of manufacturing technology and the training offered with the new two-year program.

Northland Community and Technical College (NCTC) is a comprehensive college with campuses in Thief River Falls, MN, and East Grand Forks, MN. NCTC also has an aerospace site in Thief River Falls, MN, and a satellite site in Roseau, MN. NCTC offers certificates, diplomas, transfer courses, two-year degrees (A.A.S., A.S., A.A.) in more than 80 areas of study, workforce training and education programs. NCTC is a member of Minnesota State, the fourth-largest system of two-year colleges and four-year universities in the United States, and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. NCTC is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer. For more information about Northland Community & Technical College, visit or call 1.800.959.6282.