HASTINGS — High school students from across the state were able to sign agreements to enter the diesel technology program at Central Community College-Hastings, while a handful of additional students were recognized alongside their partnerships with sponsoring companies at a signing ceremony Wednesday.

Approximately 20 students signed agreements as part of CCC-Hastings’ first-ever signing day. Mark Funkey, associate dean for skilled and technical sciences at CCC-Hastings, said the event was initiated by some of the college’s industry partners who wanted to recognize their sponsorship students. It later grew to be a ceremony recognizing all future diesel technology students.

Funkey said there are three different specializations to diesel technology: agricultural construction (working on farm construction equipment and learning how to repair it), on-the-road trucks (semi trucks) and power generation (large diesel engines that are used to power different facilities or sites).

Grand Island Senior High senior Gabino Saldivar Gomez was one student who signed an agreement Wednesday. He said since he was young, he loved cars and has always been working on them.

“I started at Career Pathways Institute working on cars,” Saldivar Gomez said. “At first, it was hard for me. But now, it is really easy for me and I enjoy doing it because you are not doing the same thing every day. You work with different cars, different trucks and different issues. I have learned a little bit about diesel technology and want to do that. I want to see how far I can go in it and make it my long-term career.”

Saldivar Gomez said he was honored to attend the signing ceremony Wednesday and is eager to enter the diesel technology program.

Charles Lesser, a student at Millard North High School, said he thought Wednesday’s event was an opportunity for students to network with companies that have hired them, or could hire them in the future. He said NMC is sponsoring him while he goes through the program.

“NMC will pay for my tuition, uniform, tools and a bunch of other things,” Lesser said. “In return, I will do a paid summer internship with them. When I graduate, I will do some more training with them and have a two-year commitment. After that, I am free to stay with the company or move on.”

Nate Allen, CCC dean of skilled and technical sciences, said the sponsoring companies work with CCC in the recruiting process, but the selection of who the companies sponsor is at the company’s discretion.

“It (partnership) adds a little more accountability to the student because the employers are actively engaged in their education,” he said. “There are monthly meetings and they have to meet standards. A student could actually be sponsored and have a little bit more responsibility and things they have to do than what is required of a traditional student coming into the program.”

Ben Gano, manager of talent acquisition at NMC, said the company has been a partner with CCC for almost 24 years. He said the company realized it was hard to find skilled employees and needed to recruit people and train them. The partnership with CCC allows it to do so.

“We are creating our own pipeline,” Gano said. “Everybody, including us, wants skilled people. What is the best way to do it? You build it within. You put them through college and train them your culture and skills. You have to invest in education and training, but you have somebody who knows your culture.”

When the sponsored students graduate, Gano said, they will be put through six more months of Caterpillar training to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to work at NMC.

CCC-Hastings President Bill Hitesman thanked the students for their commitment to joining the program and growing the workforce.

“You read all the time about the skilled workforce that we are so desperately in need of in the state and the country and you are a part of that,” Hitesman told the students. “Your skills you are going to obtain will prove extremely valuable to all of us to keep the economy and manufacturing going. It will also keep industries here.”

Allen said CCC is hoping to grow the industry partnerships and agreement signing to other programs and divisions next year. Hitesman said he hopes Wednesday’s signing event is the first of many to come.

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