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KVCC Groves Campus' CNC machinist program addresses skills shortage

When Kalamazoo Valley Community College (www.kvcc.edu/academy) in Western Michigan heard about the lack of skilled trades people, primarily CNC machinists, they opened a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Operator Academy at The Groves Campus in 2010. This is the third such Academy for the school, which also operates a Production Technician Academy and a Mechatronic Systems Technician Academy.

Clare Goldsberry

July 2, 2013

4 Min Read
KVCC Groves Campus' CNC machinist program addresses skills shortage

The CNC Operator Academy was created with the assistance of the Advanced Manufacturing Career Consortium, a Southwestern Michigan group consisting of 29 participating companies working together to increase the number of people interested and qualified for job openings in the area.

The seven-week CNC Operator Academy program is a competency-based, project-driven, career training program. Dave Martin, president and CEO of Accu-Mold LLC and a member of the Advanced Manufacturing Career Consortium, noted that the skills shortage, particularly in CNC machining, comes as a result of what he says is the “lost decade of manufacturing and the economy suddenly turning around,” leaving mold companies with a lot of work and a lack of skilled  employees.

The participating companies broke up into various “task groups” with the idea to reach out to potential students with a program that would make it fast and easy to gain basic skills for entry level jobs. One task force developed a screening process for applicants to ensure they had basic problem-solving skills, a sense of urgency for the job, the initiative to grow their skills, and the discipline to stay until the job is done. The employers involved in the program – and who were paying the tuition – wanted to be certain that the people entering the program were “investment-grade people” before they signed on to support the Academy, which was initially being paid for by the employers to jumpstart the programs. ACT provides the tests for judging the talent and aptitude for the program.
It was disappointing to the Consortium to find that many of the available people lacked the “character” that the employers in the Consortium felt was essential to allow the applicants to enter the program. 
Martin told PlasticsToday that the immediate goal of the program was to develop fast-track academies that would prepare people for entry-level positions in CNC machining through five-to-six weeks of full-time, daylong classes in the basics. "This entry-level program also helps potential employers see if the students have the aptitude for the work and the character traits the Consortium determined were necessary for the employees they wanted. “
A mid-range strategy for the Consortium’s members is to take the information on the group’s Education for Employment (EFE) program to all freshman students and their parents. “The group held an open house at The Kalamazoo Air ZOO Museum to show these younger students and more importantly their parents, all the opportunities available through the EFE classes such as Computerized Manufacturing,” said Martin. “All high-school counselors were given tours of companies involved in the Consortium such as Accu-Mold, Stryker Medical, and Flowserve, to escalate the image of today’s manufacturing career opportunities. This was highly effective and resulted in doubling the class size in Computerized Manufacturing – formerly known as Machine Tool – from 20 students to 40.”
A long-term strategy for the Consortium is implement the Toyota program – Project Lead the Way – that is being implemented in Kentucky’s schools to get even younger children interested in a career in manufacturing and teaching them the basic skills in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. “Right now, our big challenge is to get people into the pipeline so that the training Academies can thrive,” Martin stated.
“This program is very strict and very tough,” said Martin. “Professors were hand-picked and told to drop students who did not demonstrate responsibility, show commitment to the program, or lacked discipline the program required such as not getting to class on time.”
The outcome has been that over 80% of the program’s graduates are employed at an average pay of $11 to $13 an hour, with full benefits at “world-class” companies that will continue to invest in their training, Martin explained.
One thing the program supporters are struggling with is the high drop-out rate in the screening process. “We’re struggling to keep 14-16 people in each academy per quarter,” said Martin. “In fact the last two quarters were cancelled due to lack of students that qualified. We’re going back to the drawing board to try to regain more students, but we’re not going to lower the bar in this area.”
Over the course of the program, specific competencies will be assessed. Students who successfully complete the training academy will receive a Certificate of Completion and a Transcript of Competencies signed by the certified instructors.
Martin noted that not only are the Academy programs great for students, but it also offers a way back for people who left the workforce when the automotive industry took a downturn a few years ago. “Many were production line workers who had few real trade skills,” said Martin. “We need these people back in the workforce, and that will become even more important as the baby boomers retire over the next decade. I’m projecting that instead of the $23 an hour that skilled CNC operators make now in Michigan, they’ll be making $30 an hour as the demand for skilled labor increases.”

Applications to the Academy are accepted all year. For more information or to apply, to to: http://grovescenter.kvcc.edu/career/cnc/apply.htm or contact Katie Herweg, Assistant to the Executive Director of Training and Development 269-363-1290.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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