RED OAK – It's important to have a trained, well-versed workforce, and Texas State Technical College in North Texas knows that. That's why Gerdau Ameristeel in Midlothian sent 13 of their employees to further their training at the campus in Red Oak.

The students are working towards completing an Associate of Applied Science in Industrial Maintenance.

"The Industrial Maintenance curriculum at TSTC is aligned with the knowledge and skills Gerdau requires for an employee who is interested in pursuing a maintenance role at the mill," said Kaley Infield, a communications and public affairs specialist at Gerdau.

The program helps provide employees with opportunities to advance within the company.

"The program helps them gain the qualifications necessary to be considered for future maintenance positions at the Midlothian Mill," Infield said. "Gerdau encourages employees to improve their performance and strives to provide employees with a various career progression opportunities."

Gerdau sees the training as an investment, Infield said.

"The program allows employees to invest in their own development and career growth which enhances employee engagement and develops a pipeline of maintenance talent for future openings," she said.

Scotty Caughron, a lead millwright who has worked at Gerdau for nearly 17 years, said he jumped at the opportunity to participate in the program because it was his best chance to go to college.

"Gerdau is working with our schedules to allow us to go to college," Caughron said. "Education is power. I actually joined the military to go to college; it just took me 20 years to get here. I have a daughter that's a freshman and a son in sixth grade. I tell them 'Always go to school.' Well, here I have the chance to go to school. If I don't take it, how can I preach to them, if I'm not going?"

Kevin Liptak, an Industrial Maintenance instructor, said the students have varying degrees of knowledge.

"One of the students is actually their lead electrician, but there's a couple who are entry-level techs," Liptak said.

The employees who may have less know-how in the field benefit from having experienced instructors partnered with co-workers who know the company.

"Those with previous knowledge are almost helping teach the class," Liptak laughed. "Some, like Jeremy Crowder, one of Gerdau's lead electricians, have taken initiative. After we teach something, he'll elaborate on the Gerdau-specific processes and parts."

Crowder, who celebrates 20 years at Gerdau this year, said he helps elaborate because it makes things easier to understand for the other students.

"As good as the instructors are, they don't know all that we deal with every day at Gerdau," Crowder said. "I've had the benefit of working in all the different areas over 20 years, so I can relate to the others a little differently than a teacher can. And it makes my job easier if they're better at their jobs, too."

Manuel Herrera, the youngest of the group at 22, has been at Gerdau for a year and a half. Herrera looks forward to getting his degree.

"I want to keep progressing," Herrera said. "Hopefully my next step is to be an electrician or millwright, and then continue going to school for a Bachelor's."

Caughron said the training gives them a glimpse into the work others do at the plant.

"At Gerdau, you're either an electrician or a millwright," Caughron said. "We took an electrical class last semester. It benefited me, because I'm all mechanical. It helped me to see how to troubleshoot and how they do things versus how we do them."

Gerdau chose to train their employees at TSTC for their reputation, and so far, are happy with the outcome.

"By having employees attend TSTC, we're ensuring they are receiving top-notch training," Infield said. "We value our partnership with TSTC, and we're proud of our employees who are taking this important next step in securing their future with Gerdau."