CNC machine training program launches in Sept.

By RICHIE DAVIS, Recorder Staff (Thursday, July 18, 2013, Published in print: Friday, July 19, 2013)

Before anyone had even formally announced the first in a series of 12-week training sessions in “advanced manufacturing” skills for local unemployed and under-employed workers, 43 people had applied for what will be at most 15 slots, according to Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board officials.

The new two-year initiative, funded with a $239,351 grant, will pay for four 12-week trainings at the Franklin County Technical School, which has begun receiving the first of 13 computer numerical control (CNC) metal working machines in time for the evening training sessions to begin Sept. 16.

The state-of-the-art milling, grinding and lathe machines were purchased with help with roughly $215,000, raised by area manufacturers, led by Valley Steel Stamp Co. Chief Executive Officer Steve Capshaw. That money was matched by a $250,000 appropriation by the state Legislature and an additional $100,000 state grant to the Tech School.

It’s part of the Middle Skills Manufacturing Initiative, which was launched Thursday.

“This program has been a long-time coming,” said board Executive Director Patricia Crosby, pointing back 12 years. “Ever since I started this job, I have been hearing, on the one hand, that manufacturing is dying, and on the other, that advanced manufacturing, precision manufacturing, is not only thriving, but employers can’t find workers with the skill-levels needed to enter and advance in their companies. We knew it was a need, but until now we just haven’t had the right combination of need, people, organizations and dollars to make it happen. It feels like the stars are finally aligned.”

The new manufacturing initiative, which also involves the Tech School, Greenfield Community College, 14 supporting employers and the Franklin-Hampshire Career Center, targets adult job seekers with mechanical and math aptitude for jobs in manufacturing, a sector in which nearly 14 percent of Franklin County workers and more than 24 percent of the North Quabbin workforce are employed. GCC, working with the employers, will develop the training program, hire instructors and do testing and certification of participants.

The career center, which is providing $22,000 in training program funding for the project, will handle recruiting, enrolling and counseling participants and will offer work readiness, job search and placement services, with on-the-job training also available so trainees can benefit from more work-based experience.

Capshaw spearheaded the campaign to raise money for up-to-date computerized equipment because he was finding it hard to fill jobs at his company with students who had trained on vintage 1960s machines. He said the new equipment and training initiative will go a long way to filling the 4,500 manufacturing jobs that are expected to become available in the Pioneer Valley over the next five years for which the region’s nine technical schools have only been able to turn out 160 students a year. A Commonwealth Corp. study estimates there will be a need for 100,000 advanced manufacturing jobs statewide over the next 10 years, due to retirement, attrition and expansion.

“The technology has been skyrocketing, and people who can harness those technologies to make very complicated parts are rewarded with very high paying jobs, with tremendous benefits relative to other industries,” said Capshaw, who has estimated that employees hired out of the Middle Skills Academy could make $50,000 in their first year. “For five or 10 years, we’ve been desperate for talent in advanced manufacturing. In the worst economy since the Great Depression, we’ve been desperately trying to hire people over the last several years and can’t do it.”

Valley Steel Stamp, which employs 50 workers, is looking to hire seven more, Capshaw said.

Cody Sisson of Sisson Engineering in Northfield, which employs 20 workers, said, “So many people are waiting for the economy, quote unquote, to return to the way it used to be. From my perspective, it’s going to be totally different. There’s such a push for automation for profit, but there’s still that niche we’re in where we need highly-skilled people to run these highly complex operations … This program is not just going to provide us with employees, but it’s a major demonstration of the new way of business in this country.”

As the first project of a new Franklin-Hampshire Middle Skills Center, the 220-hour manufacturing course is also seen as a preview of collaborations with GCC, the Tech School and other industry groups to provide training and establish an adult education program that meets the ongoing needs of the region’s workers.

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