KALAMAZOO — When Jarod VanDyken graduated from Kalamazoo Valley Community College with an associate degree in computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining last summer it was a worthwhile accomplishment, sure, but not at all unusual — even if CNC is hardly a household word.
No, the real feat here is that VanDyken already has a secure, high-paying job with an advanced manufacturing company — and his employer, Texas-based Flowserve Corp.’s Kalamazoo plant, completely paid for his education, meaning VanDyken has zero college debt.
“This worked out for me better than I could have ever possibly imagined,” said VanDyken, 26. “You’d never know that for four years, I sat in the back of classrooms at Kalamazoo Central High School and did next to nothing. I was the student that teachers warned other teachers about.”
VanDyken said he wasn’t unruly, but admits his laziness frustrated both his teachers and his parents. His disinterest kept him from applying himself in a manner that would allow him to thrive in the public education system, but he doesn’t blame the system. Rather, he takes full responsibility for his own actions — or lack thereof.
“I just didn’t want to do anything,” he said. “I guess you could say I had senioritis the first day of my freshman year and I never changed.”
But then VanDyken’s mother told him about the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program, the apprenticeship program developed by Michigan’s global industry leaders and the Michigan Talent Investment Agency. Now, as a graduate of the program, he’s on track for a long-term career with a wide range of upwardly mobile options.
“Everybody I trained with told me that I was probably going to be the head of a company someday soon,” VanDyken said. “I laughed at first, but when I kept hearing that — and when the other MAT2 students told me they were hearing the same thing — I started to realize how incredible this program is. There really isn’t anyone else with this knowledge and skill set who’s as young as we are. One year of MAT2 put me light-years ahead.”
He credits his parents, Mark and Julie VanDyken, for inspiring his transformation and is especially grateful to his mom for introducing him to MAT2.
“I’m lucky to have a great family. I finally realized it was important to me to live up to their expectations and uphold the standards they set,” VanDyken said. “My parents knew what I was capable of before I did. I owe them so much and I know I can never repay them, but I have goals to work toward now, and I know they’re proud of me for turning my life around.”
And their support included allowing him to live at home as he went through the program, although he’s not sure how much longer that will last.
“I can’t believe they put up with me this long, but I’m looking to move out sometime next year,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the time they gave me. Now that I have a good foundation of savings, I have more options of the type of home I want to start building my life in.”
MAT2 helps make it happen
VanDyken was taking classes as a part-time student at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and working at a local greenhouse, when he was encouraged to apply for a MAT2 apprenticeship in 2015 by his mom, who heard of the program through her job as a Flowserve purchasing agent.
KVCC is among four colleges in Michigan participating in the MAT2 program by recruiting students who are interested in earning a paycheck now while becoming the technical manufacturing leaders of the future. KVCC’s focus with MAT2 is addressing the need for high-tech workers in southwest Michigan, which expects to add almost 60 new jobs annually for employees trained in CNC machine tools, according to Sue Gardner, the college’s dean of business, industrial trades and public services.
“We want people to know an innovative new path exists in Michigan to obtain a tuition-free associate degree, paid for by a local employer, while getting on-the-job training with pay in a high-tech, in-demand field,” Gardner said.
Careers include work as CNC tool operators and process control technicians. Flowserve, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of industrial and environmental machinery, is among the employers that have successfully recruited and employed MAT2 apprentices.
Get paid to go to school, earn a great job
Applying to MAT2 is similar to applying for a job, and the MAT2 application process is competitive. You need a resume and references, which students submit to participating MAT2 employers through the Pure Michigan Talent Connect site at MiTalent.org/MAT2.
Students have the option of applying to all MAT2 employers throughout Michigan or just identifying those working in areas that are of interest, such as automotive, boating and aerospace, as well as other advanced manufacturing, research and design companies.
Once a MAT2 employer hires the student, students enroll at the corresponding college for the appropriate program and the employer pays the tuition. MAT2student-trainees rotate between attending classes and working at a company for the program’s first three years.
During the school periods, student-trainees receive a stipend from their employers, who pay for college tuition as well. In between those periods, students transition into apprentices who put their new skills into action at the worksite, along with earning a regular paycheck. Upon successful completion of the program in three years, the student-apprentices receive an associate degree and a full-time job with their employer.
‘The best decision I ever made’
“Applying for the MAT2 apprenticeship with Flowserve is the best decision I ever made,” VanDyken said. “Plus, I’m extremely excited about everything I’m doing with the company. Flowserve’s business is going great, and with all the advancements being made in our industry we’re broadening our capabilities to meet the demands of our customers.”
VanDyken said he may pursue an advanced degree in either engineering or engineering management to give him more career options — paid for by Flowserve. He would encourage Kalamazoo-area high school students who are considering advanced manufacturing careers to explore the choices offered through MAT2.
“If anybody is even remotely considering this program, I’d say do it,” VanDyken said. “If it worked for me, it can work for anyone. I had no skills, I wasn’t good at math or science and I had terrible study habits. But they laid out all the information I needed in a way that allowed me to learn quickly and retain it.
“If you have any fears of learning something new, throw them out. MAT2 is set up to let you succeed in the greatest way possible.”
More information about MAT2 is available at MiTalent.org/MAT2.