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State Tech, companies partner to address utility workforce needs

by Ryan Pivoney | November 12, 2021 at 5:20 a.m. | Updated November 12, 2021 at 12:37 p.m.
Shannon Grus, vice president of advancement at State Technical College of Missouri, addressed utility industry partners at the Utility Workforce Summit on Thursday. Private investment and support have made State Tech one of the nation's leaders in utility programs. Photo by Ryan Pivoney

A partnership between private industry employers and State Technical College of Missouri is the model system for addressing workforce needs, utility industry representatives said.

State Tech's Utility Workforce Summit on Thursday evening spurred conversations around how utility companies can help support the growth of the technical college and pave the way for a larger utility workforce in Missouri.

"It's setting the gold standard for utility infrastructure around the country," said Steve Sellenriek, president of Sellenriek Construction.

Sellenriek, who sits on the State Tech Board of Regents, has worked to bring together various utility industry representatives to become partners with State Tech and support its technical programming.

The college already has many partners, which often make donations or provide equipment each year.

Sellenriek Construction, for example, provides $1 million in equipment to State Tech's utility systems technician program each year, as does Ditch Witch and other partners.

State Tech's utility systems technician program was founded in 2019 and heavily relies on a partnership between State Tech, Missouri One Call, utility companies and utility contractors.

The partnership has led to the development of the Utility Technology Center, one of State Tech's newest facilities that was only partially completed earlier this year.

The college and its partners are undergoing phase B of the UTC, which will add almost 20,000 square feet of instruction space and include a broadband lab. That is expected to be complete by April 2022.

State Tech also plans to add what it calls Safety Village, a neighborhood of eight small buildings with underground utilities. State Tech and its utility company and contractor partners plan to use the 200,000 square feet to teach students and train employees on working on and around underground water, gas, electric, oil and fiber utilities.

State Tech President Shawn Strong said that should be complete by the summer of 2022.

Strong said Thursday's summit was meant to bring together representatives from various utility companies to see how State Tech has been developing and discuss how they can support the college in producing more students with the skills needed for utility industries.

Sellenriek said the event shows the partners what their money goes to and opens the door for other schools to see how to develop similar partnerships.

Another college from Kentucky attended the summit to learn more about duplicating it, Sellenriek said.

"We're knocking it out of the park compared to other schools," Strong said. "We're definitely leading the nation when it comes to utility programs. I'd venture to say we're one of the best in the country when it comes to utility workforce."

Sellenriek and other partners said schools like State Tech can help address workforce needs, especially with the largest infrastructure investment in decades coming down from the federal government.

"Schools like this are needed," he said. "We need that workforce."

With five straight years of record-breaking enrollment, State Tech is Missouri's fastest growing college, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It's headcount has grown 61 percent since 2016.

In its first year, 22 students were enrolled in the utility systems technician program. On the first day this year, 50 students were enrolled.

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