New England machine shops make the MOST of training

Like many of their New England counterparts, Kamatics, a Connecticut manufacturer of bearings primarily used in aerospace, was having challenges finding entry-level machinists to work in their facility. “We were adding new machinery, and potential employees needed more mechanical skills on the use of new equipment and needed to learn CNC programming as well,” said Kathleen Finigan.

02/15/2008


Like many of their New England counterparts, Kamatics, a Connecticut manufacturer of bearings primarily used in aerospace, was having challenges finding entry-level machinists to work in their facility.

“We were adding new machinery, and potential employees needed more mechanical skills on the use of new equipment and needed to learn CNC programming as well,” said Kathleen Finigan, director of Human Resources at Kamatics. “With everyone in the same industry looking for the same skilled workers, the market was getting increasingly competitive.”

There is a critical need for qualified machine operators, and due to the limited number of people entering training programs, manufacturers are finding it difficult to recruit workers with the necessary skills and knowledge. But the six New England centers of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership have collaborated to solve the skilled workers shortage with a program called MOST.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Machine Operator Skills Training program is a free regional program that brings state-of-the-art technology to rural areas using a mobile training unit. The two-week, 80-hour hands-on program is designed to equip workers with the skills necessary to secure positions as CNC machine operators in companies such as Kamatics. The training curriculum is relevant to the needs of New England’s machine shops; is delivered in a short period of time; and is robust enough to train individuals who may have little or no experience in manufacturing %%MDASSML%% let alone with CNC equipment.

“If these candidates had just walked in off the street looking for a job, they probably would not have even been considered,” said Finigan. “The MOST program gave them some background and allowed them to demonstrate their work ethic and enthusiasm. This has been a win-win for everyone.”

The first MOST training session was launched in February 2006. To date, more than 317 individuals have been trained as CNC operators, filling critical openings at more than 54 large and small machine shops across New England.

“What makes the MOST program truly unique is that available jobs are identified before training is conducted,” said Ted Bauer, the program director of MOST and project coordinator at MassMEP. “These new machine operators will be fast-tracked into their careers and will continue to add to their skill set as they grow within the company.”

Fast-track training

MOST’s fast-track training is delivered in two phases. In Phase One, trainees embark on two weeks of intensive training on board an MTU, a state-of-the-art, converted recreational vehicle fitted with twelve computer stations, a single station CNC machine and a small lathe. Phase One is intended to build basic foundation skills. An MEP instructor covers shop math, blue print reading and metrology.

During Phase Two, the trainees enter a structured eight-week on-the-job training program carried out by the employer. This training is conducted immediately following completion of Phase One. The training is customized to suit the individual company’s unique requirements, equipment, products and operating philosophy.

Businesses agree to interview the candidates at the end of their training and offer paid on-the-job-training to the people they choose to hire. Senesco Marine, in Quonset Point, RI, a leader in the double-hulled barge market, opened another position in its company after the interviewing sessions.

“Initially, we were looking for two potential employees, but after the training, when I was able to interview candidates, I decided to bring in three trainees. All have had perfect attendance and are doing very well at their job-specific training,” said Mike Foster, vice president of Senesco Marine.

Pete Cirak, senior quality assurance manager at Palmer Manufacturing, was able to successfully fill critical operator positions in his Malden, MA plant using the two phases of the MOST program. He was so enthusiastic about the program that he hired six trainees as a result.

“These candidates have filled the right slots and are working out well. MOST gets them to a point where they are more comfortable starting out on the floor and not destroying any parts or machinery worth a lot of money,” said Cirak.

“We wanted to hire a particular individual and felt that the MOST program would provide just the right training,” said Norm Ackley, president of Trow & Holden, a manufacturer of stone cutting tools in Barre, VT. “The training was worthwhile in several areas since it focused on measurement and print reading and metrics, safety and basic machine theory. The program did a great job of covering quite a bit of in-depth information in such a short time.”

Kerstin Forrester, president of Stonebridge Corporation, a Worcester, MA-based precision machine shop agreed. “We hired two MOST trainees and are delighted with our choices. I believe the success of our choice is a combination of the MassMEP MOST program and the make up of each individual %%MDASSML%% both have a 'fire-in-the-belly’ to learn and do well. I think both of these guys will be long-term employees of our company.”

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the program is that non-traditional workers are being recruited to fill the spots,” said Mike Lambert, Maine MEP project manager. “We are working with the Maine Career Centers to identify individuals who are not necessarily looking for jobs in the machinery trade,” he said. “In fact, most of the newly trained machine operators have been unemployed or under-employed individuals in another profession altogether.”

“The MOST program here was a great success, and pleasantly surprised even the experienced machinists on the shop floor who were skeptical at the beginning of the program,” said Thomas Galley, chief operating officer at Maine Machine Products Company, a South Paris, ME-based precision custom manufacturer of components and assemblies for targeted high-technology markets.

One of the first companies to participate in the New Hampshire MEP MOST training, Fall Machine, is an advocate of the program. The CNC precision machine shop in Somersworth was having trouble recruiting semi-skilled employees.

“People who want to work and better themselves will be able to take advantage of it and save lots of time with preliminary skills training,” said Mark Duffy, vice president of Fall Machine.


Author Information
Jack Healy is the director of operations for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership. More information can be found at mfg@nist.gov .




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