Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ) once offered a home study course for machinists. It was an orange 13-chapter series where people could study on their own time. They’d do the exercises, take the test at the end, and mail it to their friendly neighborhood training administrator for grading. That was me. Assuming you studied hard, you’d receive a certificate of completion from Sandvik Coromant; if not, I’d send it back, with notes, and tell you to study more and try again.
That was nearly 40 years ago. Sandvik Coromant is still training people, but the coursework is now online, and a human no longer has to do the grading, nor try to figure out people’s handwriting. Progress is a wonderful thing.
People were concerned about their workforces back then as well. Shops everywhere scrambled to find and train enough young people to take the place of all the soon-to-be-retiring journeyman machinists, tool and die makers, and other skilled manufacturing people. That was at least part of the reason for the home study course.
The other was because Sandvik Coromant has offered training and education to this constantly evolving industry for as long as anybody can remember. When you make cutting tools and toolholders for a living, like we do, you know a lot about machining. That’s why we train people, and why we’ve developed much of the curriculum used by our partner schools.
We’re not alone. Haas Automation Inc. (Oxnard, CA) opened its first Haas Technical Education Center (HTEC) in 1993. Like Sandvik Coromant, Haas saw the value in training people for a career in manufacturing. When Haas began putting CNC machines in schools, Sandvik Coromant was one of the first companies to say, “This is a great idea. We should support this.” And that’s what we did. Walk into any HTEC in the world and you’re likely to see Sandvik Coromant tooling. Attend a class there and you might use some of our training materials.
A lot has changed since those early days. The HTEC network today boasts more than 3200 schools worldwide, and has trained 100,000 students and counting. Aside from Sandvik Coromant, dozens of industry-leading companies and organizations have joined the program, supplying it with tools, software, and expertise. We’re proud to be a part of it.
Chris McHugh, HTEC business manager for Haas Automation, shares in our enthusiasm. He can show you statistics from the US Department of Labor and Deloitte that project nearly 3.5 million manufacturing job openings over the next decade, with 2 million of them going unfilled.
That’s why the opportunities for students wishing to pursue a manufacturing career right now are “simply huge,” he said. Maybe that’s a machinist position, it might be in manufacturing engineering, or it could be a CNC programming position—they’re all driven around the idea of fabricating parts and putting assemblies together to highly repeatable, high quality standards, an idea that McHugh (and pretty much everyone else in this industry) is crazy about.
“That’s exactly where I’ve pushed my son,” said McHugh. “I told him, ‘Hey, you’re a smart guy. If you want a life that’s going to treat you well, manufacturing is the place to be.’”
Enthusiasm aside, there’s one problem: we need more teachers. “When guys like me retire, programs close,” said Dan Sunia, engineering and manufacturing technology chair at California’s Petaluma High School. “I can name dozens of vocational programs like ours that have shut down because the teacher retired and there’s no one to step in and take their place. It’s a real problem.”
Like many instructors, Sunia began his teaching career at the tail end of one in manufacturing, training students in an National Tooling and Machine Association (NTMA) apprenticeship program during the evening. When the day instructor retired, Sunia stepped in and immediately set about modernizing his classroom’s outdated equipment. Since funds for vocational programs are often in short supply, he and a group of high schoolers worked out a deal building park benches for the city of Petaluma, earning enough to invest in CNC equipment from Haas. He was soon introduced to HTEC, a program he can’t say enough good things about.
“In addition to modernizing the shop, we also started doing a lot of Sandvik Coromant training,” he says. “As part of the HTEC network, I have access to PowerPoints, videos and other training materials. It worked out really nicely for us, and the students are offered information that’s both current and relevant. I can’t tell you how many we’ve trained using Haas equipment and Coromant tooling. Together with the educational material and support I’ve received, it’s been a great partnership.”
Danville Community College Director of Advanced Manufacturing Troy Simpson agreed. “Haas provided us with an opportunity to be a Train the Trainer facility for the Southeast region, one of five in the US. Recognizing the need for more educators, we worked with Haas and Sandvik Coromant to develop training videos and other materials designed to get teachers up to speed quickly. We have a rich partnership with these two companies, and look forward to this year’s HTEC conference, and beyond.”
Not Your Parents’ “Vo-Tech”
He’s not alone. Scotty Nicholson, manufacturing instructor at South Carolina’s Greenville Technical College, has taken the partnership ball and run with it. “We’re partners with Haas. We’re partners with Sandvik Coromant,” he said. “We’re partners with companies that best represent the industry, [with tools and equipment] that kids coming out of school are most likely to use when they hit the shop floor, and that we feel are the best at what they do.”
As a result, Nicholson has established a complete curriculum that includes “stepping off” points for those that need to leave school and take a job as a CNC operator, but allows them to return and pursue an Associate degree or beyond.
Like Danville Community College, Petaluma High School, and other schools and HTEC facilities, Greenville has a robust program that provides countless opportunities for young people. And, as any shop owner or manufacturing HR person can tell you, it also helps the industry.
Of course, a workforce of the future can’t be built on high school students alone. For example, Haas and Sandvik Coromant work closely with Workshops for Warriors, an organization that helps transitioning service members develop machining and welding skills. Vocational institutions such as Lincoln Tech and others are doing a tremendous amount of workforce development with students who’ve decided college might not be for them, or who’ve graduated and are unable to find a rewarding career in their chosen field. And for those already in the trades, there’s an opportunity to develop advanced skills, utilizing a network of universities, community colleges, state and business sponsored apprenticeships, and the industry partners mentioned here.
As we enter the future of manufacturing, we see many changes happening, all of which require a sustainable workforce and robust worker training. If you want to see for yourself how this will be accomplished, come visit us at the HTEC CNC Educator Conference, hosted this year by Danville (VA) Community College, July 23-27, or at least swing by your nearest high school, community college, or Continuing Technical Education institute. You just might like what you find.