As many as 1,000 students in Montana’s two-year colleges could find their path to a career just got a little bit smoother, thanks to Greg Gianforte, who made a fortune in Montana and is putting some of that money back into the community.
“Montana needs more high wage jobs. And one of the things we’ve learned is that manufacturing creates high wage jobs. Yet, not everybody in Montana that’s seeking work has the skills to get these jobs," says Gianforte.
Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies of Bozeman, which grew to 1,100 employees before he sold it in 2012 to the tech giant Oracle Corporation. In his new vocation as a philanthropist, Gianforte looks for causes that might benefit from some of his fortune, and he found one, in Montana’s shortage of skilled manufacturing workers. So Gianforte began talking with the state’s education leaders, such as John Cech, who heads the state’s two-year colleges.
“There was great interest from Mr. Gianforte in helping to increase access to students who were interested in pursuing manufacturing related careers given the fact that manufacturing is growing in Montana and the fact that we have workforce shortages," said Cech.
What they worked out was a half-million dollar scholarship program. The money will be doled out over the next 4 semesters at 13 colleges around the state that teach manufacturing related skills such as machining and welding. Veterans and lower-income students will get priority for the money, which will pay up to 50 percent of their tuition. Gianforte says it’ll make a big difference not just for the students, but also for the businesses that hire them.
“We had manufacturers who kept telling me, we could double in size and hire twice as many people, if we only had more skilled laborers. and we knew from our business experience that Montanans have an incredibly strong work ethic, but they didn’t have the skills. The scholarships are designed to bring those two things together.”
Will Harris graduated in May from Great Falls College and immediately got a job as a welder. He says the cost of college can be a formidable barrier for someone with limited means:
“I’ve got a couple friends that are a little fearful of going to school. Going to school is the only way you could learn some simple basics of welding and any kind of fabricating and if you go to school with a grant like this is going to help a lot.”
The first round of scholarships will be awarded this spring.
Learn more about the Gianforte Family Foundation Scholarships.