Joining us on this episode is Mike Casper and Brian Huff, co-founders and owners of Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College.
Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College have six locations – located in Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi. They are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
Bob Martin: On this edition of Imagine America Radio, we’re going to be talking to the cofounders of Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical Colleges, located in Missouri, Mississippi, and Illinois. We’re very pleased to have these two gentlemen join us today.
So first of all, before we start, we got Mike Casper and Brian Huff. May we call you Mike and Brian for purposes of our discussion today?
Mike Casper: Sure.
Brian Huff: Yeah. Yeah. Sure.
Bob: I looked through your materials, and it’s a very exciting story about your schools. So, as I understand it, prior to 1995 and the opening of MTI, you guys were actually working welders? Is that right? Is that right, Brian?
Brian: Yes. We were both welders and we were in the field. And where we worked, we trained a lot of welders. There was a great need for welders. And we were always in this process where we were trying to train for more help. And, as you know, it’s hard to do it at work. And that’s really where the whole idea stemmed from. We realized there was going to be a need—or there was a need—for a welding school, and that’s how the whole thing got launched. I mean, we were very focused, in the beginning, on construction and maintenance welding. And really the core of our philosophy was, “If we teach them how to do what we know how to do, then they’re going to get a job.” It was really just that. That was what we went into this with. And we tried to take what we were doing in the field and bring this into a classroom setting. And that’s how it got going.
Bob: Yeah. I love to hear the process that you went through. That was actually going to be my next question. I think you’ve done a very nice job, which—let me just summarize.
You were working welders. You were doing it on the job, day in and day out, helping people improve their skills. And so all of a sudden, you said, “Geez, there’s a lot of opportunity here. And they’re making pretty doggone good money—or they can make good money. Why don’t we try to take that established expertise, combine it with our passion,”—you and Mike both have that passion—“and then combine it into creating a school?” Is that a fair kind of synopsis of your—?
Mike: Yeah. Yeah.
Brian: Yeah. That’s what happened.
Bob: So, you’ve done that and you got all the—there’s all kinds of difficulty doing this, or whatever. So tell me what do you think separates you, MTI and DTC, from all the rest? In other words, you’ve seen the others. You’ve seen their graduates. You’ve probably worked with a lot—did work with some—of those graduates. What separates you from the pack, in the welding field particularly?
Mike: This is Mike. Our accreditors wanted us to have a three-year minimum experience with our instructors. And so we just had the mindset when we started: We know—I was 10 years in the welding field. So, we just understood the job: exactly what needed to be done, how everybody needed trained, and what the shortcomings were on the other jobs, or other schools that the guys were coming out of. So we took that and decided that— We were cocky. We just decided that we could do it better. And so we started showing our guys tools and things that we thought were lacking in other educational fields. So we just took that, and so I think—to answer your question—the simple answer is our instructors are the difference.
Mike: They come from various backgrounds in welding. And they understand what it takes to hold a job, to keep a job, and to excel at a welding job. So they take that information and pass it directly to our students.
Brian: This is Brian. And another big differentiator was we really focused on training. This isn’t something you can read about. There isn’t a lot of—there is a classroom portion, but this is really just time under the hood, and we designed this on the front-end to where they got a lot of time under the hood, and was just practice, practice, practice. And when you practice, practice some more. And we felt like if we give them that kind of—and the material, we always made sure there was plenty of material, consumables, for them to use. With that kind of an environment, we felt like we’d have a high success rate. And we’ve been doing this for 25 years, and we have trained a lot of welders.
Mike: And this is Mike again. The core of the course, the lab portion of the course, really hasn’t changed in 25 years. So that’s a testament, I guess, to what our guys understand. I mean, it’s MIG welding, it’s TIG welding, and stick welding—those processes aren’t going away. And they’re still in high demand today after 25 years.
Bob: Yeah, and if you do it and you do it well—and you consistently do it well—and you’re producing people that do it well, you’re instructing them, then the results are going to be growth in your schools.
Lee Doubleday: Yeah. Mike, you actually touched on this a little bit, but I want to elaborate on it. So tell me a little bit more about the instructors at MTI and DTC. They’re all experts in their field with real-world industry experience. And that’s what I understand from what you would say. Can you elaborate a little bit on why is this important for training the future of our workforce?
Mike: Well, those guys understand—like I said before—they understand what it takes to actually do this job from the time the student comes in, the new student comes in, they’re learning processes that helps them pass an X-ray, that help them pass a test. When our students leave here, they’re going to be required to take some kind of weld test for the employer. So, a piece of paper saying that I can weld isn’t really going to cut it, or a real fancy résumé on some really nice paper isn’t going to cut it. It’s going to be, “Can you weld our process and how good at it are you?” So that’s what our guys are used to. Our instructors are used to convey that information from day one. They’re welders first and educators second, so they understand the whole process. These guys, they’ve done it themselves. It’s really scary to leave a welding school that you’ve been at for 30 or 40 weeks. You’ve kind of got a home, and then you have to go in someone else’s shop and prove your ability and your work.
And so, to me, to learn that from somebody who’s already done all that is actually vital. I don’t know how you would ever do it from somebody who has never done it before, because they can’t convey what to expect, and it just adds some credibility to our programs that your instructor has been in your shoes. And to add to it a little bit, Brian and I started this 25 years ago and both our sons are now in the welding department. Brian’s son helps with our job placement, and my son works as a welding instructor and in East Peoria.
Brian: And to piggyback on Mike here a little bit, it’s back to that initial thought we had where we wanted to teach them how to do what we knew how to do. And so we really looked for—we want our instructors to pass on their work knowledge. We want our students to—because if they get ahold of that, they’re going to be successful in the field. There’s many different nuances to what you’re going to run into, as Mike said. It’s going to be how you adapt to that. And we feel like we do a good job of preparing them for that while they’re here.
Bob: Oh, so you don’t worry about keeping the secret sauce, so to speak, to just you two guys. You’re conveying the recipe for that secret sauce to all your graduates.
Brian: Yeah. That’s right. That’s a great way to look at it.
Mike: Yeah. That is a great way, yeah. You hear, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” It’s hard work. You put your hood down, keep yourself focused on what you’re doing, and that’s how it’s done.
Lee: Yeah. I think it’s great. And I like what you said about being a welder first and an instructor second. I think that says everything.
So, I know that you’re both very proud of the experience that your team provides the students at your institution. What do you think really fuels that experience?
Brian: We’ve been told over and over how it feels like a family atmosphere here. The class sizes are generally smaller. There’s a lot of one-on-one attention and just the overall—from all truth, all the staff, whether it’s admissions, whether it’s faculty, whether it’s financial aid, whether it’s student services—all the way, top to bottom—we have a really good family atmosphere here and I think everybody feels that and it really— We want them to be trained, but we want to have a good experience while they’re here.
And I can’t tell you how many of family members we’ve had, where somebody comes and then their brother comes or their cousins come. Even the people who work for us—and as Mike just mentioned, our own kids have come through here. I’ve had two sons go through here and he’s had one. So, it’s not like we’re just telling everybody else to do it. We believe this is good. There’s always going to be a need for trades. How I look at it is, there is nothing until it gets built. And what I mean by that is a doctor doesn’t have a hospital to work in until the hospital’s built, right? There’s not an office for the lawyer until the lawyer’s— Caterpillar can’t even produce a tractor until somebody builds the plant for them. So everything starts with construction. There’s always going to be this great need for it. And we feel like we’re—and we’re singing that song to pretty much everybody we meet that you’re always going to do well with a trade. Our own children have gone through here as well.
Bob: It’s funny. I was listening to what you’re saying: You can’t drive a car without the oil, and you can’t get the oil without the pipeline, and you can’t get the pipeline without someone welding all the pieces together, so to speak, right?
Brian: That’s right.
Lee: That’s great. Okay. Now let’s talk about job placement. We’ve kind of talked around it during this podcast but let’s talk about it now because at the end of the day, this is what is critical for the students that are coming into your school. So not only does Midwest Tech provide workforce training, but one of the things that sets your institution apart is the job placement program. Correct if I’m wrong. Though I know the students have to qualify for it, can you tell us a little bit more about how your placement works and how they qualify for this program?
Brian: How it works is they’ve got to meet the attendance requirements and graduation requirements, but everybody who does that—we’ve offered lifetime job placement for 25 years in all of our programs. So if they get a job and they’re looking for another job, they call us and we still assist them with jobs. And so job placement is a robust part of what we do here. And we work hard to find them the right job. And we try to find them one as close as we can to where they live. But the idea when you come here, you’re coming here to get a job. We want that to be your mindset and this is why we work so closely with employers. We have program advisory committees where we have employers come in—they help tweak our programs, even develop our programs, improve our programs. And we work closely with them because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to place our students the way we do. And welding has been and great for us. Welding has been one of those fields where even over 25 years, overall, there has always been really strong job placement in the welding, as you guys know. I mean, this is one where there’s a lot of work out there and there’s very good pay opportunities for people in welding.
Bob: This is Bob. I’m reminded of that cliché, “if they write it, they’ll underwrite it.” So, I’m listening to your employer advisory groups. I’m saying, if you got real strong employers, and they feel that they’re really actively participating in the development of the program, and that your instructors are following that, then what’s the chances of they’re going to hire your graduates? I think it’s like a slam dunk, right? I mean, we went in and they listened to us, they changed the program, or they’re meeting these goals and objectives. Why wouldn’t we hire every single one of those guys that comes out? Or men or women?
Brian: Well, and that’s why we do it. And they’re essential. So we really look at it—guys, this is Brian speaking—and we really look at it like it’s a partnership. We are in partnership with the employers out there. And really, they’re the ones that ultimately grade our product. We want the students to be happy, we want them to have a great experience, but at the end of the day, it’s the employers that we’re really trying to satisfy. And it’s the employers who are ultimately giving us our grade on how well we do.
Bob: And their grade is they’re hiring your graduates. That’s the grade.
Brian: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah. It’s really easy to see how we pass the test.
Bob: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And if you’re like me—and also, I’d be sending people back. And I think there’s a really interesting program that you got where—well, go ahead. Go ahead. Talk about the housing opportunities possibly for advanced education for your graduates.
Brian: That is, as far as the future of the school goes, we would like to develop those partnerships outside our local schools and have employers that are further out do just what you just mentioned. Where they would send us students here and maybe assist them with housing while they’re here. We’re short enough. Our programs are pretty much nine months or less. So it’s not a long stretch for someone to come here and live for a while, saying that it’s in another area of the country. And so we’re hoping to partner with employers that need to fulfill these skill gaps that, ultimately, they could live here. And we know we can work with them on that.
Bob: Following up on that particular item, where do you see the whole sector going in the future? Are we going to continue to have mass technology kind of integration? Or is it going to be the same way it is now or it’s going to be 25 years from now?
Mike: Yeah. On the last 25 years, we’ve seen—this is Mike. We’ve seen—Brian talked about it—construction. Well, you start in the middle of a—you’re in Illinois, you’re going to start in the middle of a cornfield. They’re going to get it flattened out, they’re going to drive pilings, start putting up iron and concrete, and pretty soon you got a building.
So, to me, the technology has been through our welding equipment, our welding machines. What used to weigh a couple hundred pounds, they’ve got them down to 35 pounds now. You can carry them around your garage like a toaster. But it still takes the welder to do that. So, I’m no fortune teller or anything like that, but until they can figure out technology where a robot can climb a ladder and get up on a pipe rack and do what we call them, feel welds, or that kind of situation, there’s always going to be a need for an individual or a person to be able to do this kind of work. Car assembly plants, they’re pretty highly automated but it still takes a human to figure out if something goes wrong, to go back in there and repair that, if something needs repaired and stuff like that.
So our industry, as far as building buildings and powerhouses and oil refineries and things like that, I can’t see that ever going away. And like I said, I’m no fortune teller, but in our industry I see a lot in the equipment side of things being advanced, but not so much the weld abilities. I know we had some guys work over at Kraft Foods over in Champagne, and it’s the same kind of welding that they’ve done forever, and it still takes that guy to go up there with the wrench, and unbolt the bolts, and throw a come along up there or a chain fall and get it torn apart, get it repaired, and put it back together.
Brian: Yeah, and to add on to that, the infrastructure that the country’s talking about doing: all that is going to require— The advancements that will be made, like Mike said, that will be on the equipment. But we don’t see it taking away the person actually doing the job, and if the infrastructure—if what they’re talking about what they do—there will be a tremendous amount of work for the trades. It will be a boom in this country, I don’t think like we’ve ever seen. So, we’re pretty bullish because we know how relevant we are and how needed this is. Like Mike’s given the example of the cornfield. Like we said earlier, nothing happens until construction happens, and you can’t automate that. We don’t believe that, that’s so far away, if it can be automated it doesn’t look like—it’s nothing that we’re seeing in the near future by any means. So, they’re always going to need skilled trades, and HVAC techs, welders, electricians, concrete finishers, masons, iron workers. Look, those guys—you’re always going to have to have those because that’s what construction starts with. And we’re just not going to be able to get away from that.
Lee: Yeah, you guys can’t see us over here, but Bob and I are just nodding our heads, yes, yes, yes. Because that’s all we hear all day long as well, and I love what you say about “nothing starts until construction starts.” I love that.
Now, one quick question, I know we sort of skipped over this. Can you briefly go over, before I turn everything over to Bob to close, can you briefly go over where your campuses are located?
Brian: Sure. We’re in Springfield, Illinois; we’re in East Peoria, Illinois; and we are in Moline, Illinois. And then we’re also in Springfield, Missouri—and those are the Midwest Technical Institute campuses. And then we’re also in Horn Lake, Mississippi, and Ridgeland, Mississippi—and those are Delta Technical College campuses.
Bob: Well, this has been an excellent discussion. We really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to sit down with Lee and myself. We’ve been talking to Mike Casper and Brian Huff, the cofounders of Midwest Technical Institute, Delta Technical College, about welding careers, and let me just tell you this: There’s a lot more we could talk about, a lot of other careers. We just focused today on the bread and butter for these institutions.
But guys, here are my five takeaways from—and I like to have takeaways so it kind of summarizes everything.
So as first thing, my first takeaway on this podcast, is that empty MTI and DTC, unlike some of the other schools that may be in this industry, they were specifically founded by individuals that have a passion for career in technical education, and an eagerness to provide quality education and training to quality student applicants. You’ve only got to listen to this podcast—and to hear you guys bantering back and forth about where you’re going, what you’re doing—to understand that first takeaway.
My second takeaway is more for our audience, that both of these institutions—Midwest Technical and Delta Tech—are accredited colleges graduating workforce graduates to meet today’s critical needs. Accreditation is absolutely critical; it’s the cornerstone, what I heard, it’s the cornerstone of your program here.
My third takeaway here is that the MTI and DTC instructors bring years of experience and knowhow to their classes and to their students, and that shows in the passion of the two founders. I mean, I think that kind of seeps down through the whole organization.
My fourth takeaway is MTI/DTC offers lifetime placement services for qualified alum. If you go through the program, you stick to your goals, you do what you’re supposed to do, if you pass and get the attendance, you’re going to have an opportunity to work with you guys lifetime placement in that career going forward. That’s very, very important.
And then finally, interested students can go to your website—www.midwesttech.edu and www.deltatechnicalcollege.com—for any information or schedule a meeting or probably, given the current environment, a telephone conversation with any of your admissions and instructors.
That’s going to conclude this episode of Imagine America Radio. We hope that you found this information useful. We want to thank today’s guests, Mike Casper and Brian Huff, Midwest Technical Institute and Delta Technical College.
Best wishes and have a great day. Goodbye.