PLEASANT HILL -- As local manufacturers face a growing need for skilled workers who can align shafts or repair pipes and valves in a pinch, a revived Diablo Valley College program will soon be able to lend a hand.
The community college has brought back an associate degree program for mechanical technology, or mTECH, and added new technology to its lab equipment.
The mTECH program is being funded by a regional grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the California Contractors Alliance and roughly $100,000 in initial funding from Chevron.
"It really is at the intersection of what industry wants and our ability to provide that," DVC President Peter Garcia told dozens of industry, county workforce and school stakeholders at an open house Tuesday afternoon.
The program's creation will be an entryway into well-paying manufacturing jobs, which will help students have economic stability in the home, he said.
That's the goal of student Brian Jerez. The 25-year-old from Hercules, who has three more semesters of classes remaining, works during the day as a mechanic at Berkeley Motor Works and was directed to the program by a counselor.
Like many from the class, he often tinkers with things.
"I've always worked with my hands, so I was told it would be a good fit," said Jerez, who attended Tuesday's open house with wife, Jennifer, and young son. "It's been a challenge, but it will be worth it."
Most mTECH graduates find employment in local oil refineries or chemical plants, or other niche fields that require precise maintenance work.
Three area community colleges -- DVC, Laney College in Oakland, and Solano Community College in Fairfield -- joined forces to develop the new mTECH program.
DVC pulled the plug on the machine-technology program in 2005 after three decades, saying it didn't meet state requirements and its equipment was outdated.
After hearing of the need for qualified machinists from local industry in 2010, the school started to pursue grants, said Daniel Abbott, chair of DVC's engineering department.
The lab uses the same lathes, mills and grinders that have been in the DVC lab since the 1970s, but it now includes some digital measuring equipment. Added is some more modern steel valve equipment, and plans are in the works to bring in some more computer-controlled machines, Abbott said.
Garcia credited local industry for providing financial backing to help sustain the program.
Nicole Rigg, of Chevron, said she was told recently that one of the company's machinists in Richmond was excited DVC's program is open again.
"They need to know where that pipeline of the next generation is going to come from," Rigg said.
Jason Cox, of USS POSCO Industries, said that over the years the minimum requirements companies want for machinists has increased, which has whittled down a field of candidates whose skills are already hit or miss.
"This program will help provide a continuous stream of capable workers," he said.
POSCO, Dow Chemical, Phillips 66, East Bay Municipal Utility District and Shell Oil are among the companies donating employee time to advise the colleges on the program curriculum.
Cox taught one of the night courses last week.
"I was pleasantly surprised. Even after a long day of work, they were awake and attentive and ready to absorb information," he said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.