In the rural town of Greenfield, MA, near the Vermont border, a precision machining training program is building a robust pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers. The secret of the program’s success is the strong collaboration between local educators, employers, and government.
In order to design and manufacture parts of the future, area employers need a highly skilled workforce. That’s especially true as their existing workforce ages and business grows.
Just a few years ago, manufacturing was viewed as a “sunset industry” in Massachusetts and across America. Today, according to a recent report published by the Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development on Employment and Wages, more than 7000 Massachusetts manufacturers employ over 250,000 people.
With more than 250 manufacturing businesses in Franklin and Hampshire Counties, and with nearly 15% expected industry growth in the area by 2020, finding, recruiting and developing qualified employees is a top priority.
To address this need, the Franklin-Hampshire Regional Employment Board in collaboration with Greenfield Community College (GCC), Franklin County Technical School (FCTS) and a consortium of area manufacturers created the Middle Skills Manufacturing Initiative (MSMI) training for entry-level CNC operators. The program is targeted to unemployed and under-employed workers in Franklin and Hampshire Counties with funding from a Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund grant through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development administered by Commonwealth Corporation.
Concurrent with the development of the MSMI training program, significant investments were made to modernize the equipment at FCTS which is used by both day and night students. The FCTS Machine Fund, a 501C organization founded by local precision manufacturer, Steve Capshaw, President of VSS Inc., raised $217,000 from local businesses which was matched by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and various grants to ensure students are now instructed on state-of-the-art CNC mills, CNC lathes, CNC grinders, metrology tools, Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) programs.
Many businesses have been heavily involved in the local effort to build the skilled worker pipeline. Local support has come from more than 20 companies including VSS, Bete Fog Nozzle, Hassay Savage Co., DuMONT Co., Sisson Engineering, Poplar Hill, Applied Dynamics Corp, Quabbin Inc., Mayhew Steel, Small Corp., Amherst Machine, Hillside Plastics, Judd Wire, Production Tool & Grinding, Kennametal, Cohn & Company, Greenﬁeld Co-Operative Bank and Greenﬁeld Savings Bank. L.S. Starrett Company donated precision tools, gages and instruments and Air Compressor Engineering Co. Inc., and Haas Automation Inc. also provided the in-kind funding.
Many of these employers also provide instructors who partner with teachers from the vocational school. This is important since the skills required for manufacturing jobs have changed dramatically as companies have incorporated new technologies into their operations.
The MSMI training includes blueprint reading, math for manufacturing, metrology, CAD and CAM instruction, with a significant portion of the current 220-hour training dedicated to hands-on applications in a lab/shop setting. The training is project-based and reinforces the use of applied skills needed in workplace situations.
Tooling U-SME Supports Program
Students also have additional online assignments to demonstrate their mastery of the topics learned in class. Greenfield Community College partnered with Tooling U-SME, a division of SME, a leader in manufacturing training and development. Subscriptions to the Tooling U-SME courses were funded by the Massachusetts Community College and Workforce Development Transformations Agenda (MCCWDTA), which is fully funded through a $20 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant from the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration.
Instructors and area businesses collaborated on the specific Tooling U-SME classes to supplement the hands-on training. Once the required courses were completed, students were encouraged to continue to take online classes to build their skills and work with their employers to customize a training program upon hire.
The MSMI program, launched in Fall 2013, has quickly received very positive feedback. More than 100 people applied for the 15 training slots in that initial class and Tooling U-SME online subscriptions were provided to 12 “runner-up” applicants to build their skills until the next training. This approach successfully allowed students to showcase their motivation, willingness to learn new skills and be on the top of the recruitment list for the next training.
To further help develop skilled workers, Greenfield Community College developed a Foundational Manufacturing Training last summer and worked with area manufacturers such as VSS, Hillside Plastics, Hassay-Savage and New England Naturals to pilot online classes for their incumbent workers.
Since the collaborative training programs began, 29 students have graduated from the MSMI program and found employment across 13 area manufacturers. Eighty-nine students have enrolled in Tooling U-SME courses, completing nearly 4000 classes.
Local average overall wages in the Manufacturing sector are $47,372, above the region’s average annual salary of $37,000. The Spring cohort of 14 MSMI graduates were all placed into employment with salaries ranging from $13 to $19 per hour to start and averaging $15.50 with opportunities for continued advancement and training.
Advanced manufacturing is booming in Massachusetts and the collaborative manufacturing training programs underway will continue to be expanded to provide a range of options that meet the needs of students. Greenfield Community College is one of the 15 Massachusetts Community Colleges funded by TAACCCT grants to address the training and educational needs of workers and employers statewide with a focus on articulated pathways to careers in high-growth STEM sectors (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) as well as advanced manufacturing and healthcare.
Improving the perception of manufacturing is critical to encourage students and potential workers to choose manufacturing education and careers. The MassDevelopment Office’s “AMP It Up!” campaign showcases how advanced manufacturing careers can put Massachusetts and its workers on the path to success through creative, highly skilled, and well-paying jobs. As our local billboard profiling two of our MSMI graduates states, advanced manufacturing provides “Great careers and strong futures.”
Alyce Stiles is the Director of Workforce Development at Greenfield Community in Greenfield, MA.
This article was first published in the February 2015 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.
Published Date : 2/1/2015