At TSTC, each Automation and Controls Technology student will build and work with their own programmable logic controller and human machine interface trainer. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)

(MARSHALL, Texas) – When making and producing a typical package of cookies like those sold at grocery stores, every step — from baking the cookies to putting them in packages and on pallets — is performed by machines. Humans do not even touch them until they are being eaten.

From the food we eat to the water bottles we drink from, nearly everything is created with automated machinery in our modern society. But there is one thing that these machines cannot do: repair and maintain themselves. This is where Texas State Technical College’s Automation and Controls Technology program comes in.

For three years now, TSTC’s Marshall campus has been the only TSTC campus providing this program, which offers an Associate of Applied Science degree

To best train his students, Automation and Controls instructor Troy Powledge always keeps his classroom’s materials updated.

“The precision, repetition that the automated machinery does, it bypasses the human,” Powledge said. “We still need the people to create (the machinery), troubleshoot it, repair it, install it, all of that, but the automation is never going to go away.”

Powledge himself is a top-notch expert in automated machinery, having run his own business, TCO Systems, for nearly 30 years before closing its doors. When given the opportunity to teach at TSTC, both he and TSTC’s instructional business manager for Automation and Controls Douglas Clark saw a way to solve a big problem.

Several businesses in Texas are experiencing a shortage of experts in automation and controls, and the two instructors are on a mission to replenish them.

Powledge and Clark design their lessons to focus on four career paths in the automation and controls field: original equipment manufacturing, integrating, end using, and tech sales. These four paths can lead graduates to jobs at a wide array of companies and industries.

“There’s an opportunity in any industry anywhere because everything is getting or already is automated,” Clark said. “They all use the same PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and sensors and all the stuff that goes into an automated process. We want (our students) to be able to step into any role that’s out there.”

“I don’t know that we’ve sent more than two people to the same place or even industry,” Powledge said.

TSTC Student Recruitment representative Sara Whitaker is passionate about TSTC’s Automation and Controls Technology program, always recommending it to potential students.

“Students and workers obtaining skills and education in Automation and Controls are the future of the manufacturing industry,” Whitaker said.In order for manufacturing to return to the United States and maintain efficiency, people must be knowledgeable and trained in automation.”

TSTC offers its students a variety of scholarship opportunities. According to Powledge and Clark, some companies such as the Eastman Chemical Co. offer high school students the opportunity to obtain full-ride scholarships.

The website showed that robotics technicians earn an average of $50,630 a year in Texas, and it predicted that the number of such jobs in the state would grow 12% from 2020 to 2030. 

With several major industries moving their operations to Texas in recent years, Powledge is determined to show them that they don’t need to relocate their staff.

“There’s nothing that they’re doing that (our graduates) can’t support. Nothing,” Powledge stated.

Registration for TSTC’s fall semester is underway. For more information, visit

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