From Unemployed to Machinist to Businessman: A Training Success Story
Posted by Bert Maes on January 20, 2010
Need a machinist? So do a lot of other companies. The problem is finding available, qualified machinists.
Even under the current economic downturn, the demand for engineers, machinists and machine operators remains high. Those three professions have made Manpower Inc.’s “Annual 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill” list in each of the past four years.
But, that concern is not as acute in the Los Angeles area as a result of a series of training centers operated by the Haas Technical Education Center: National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA). Since the facilities opened in 1968, over 15,000 machinists and operators have used the centers to learn their trade.
A case study: Shawn Gorman
When Shawn Gorman was laid off from his last job, he saw it as an opportunity to reflect upon what he really wanted to do with his life. He realized he’d always liked working with his hands. He had taken classes in auto mechanics while in high school, but had always wanted to take a metalworking class.
So, finding himself with free time on his hands, Shawn enrolled in a training program at the NTMA Training Center in Fremont, California. In August, Shawn joined a class with 19 other students, and together they learned the fundamentals of machining on manual mills and lathes. After learning the basics on manual machines, Shawn was prepared for the automated controls of CNC machines. “It was a very easy transition,” he says.
“In module one, we teach students with no knowledge of machining that ‘this is a mill, this is a lathe.’ When they finish all five modules – which is 725 hours – they’re well prepared to start their careers,” said Jim Ragaisis, director of training for the NTMA Training Centers’ Ontario campus.
“Right from the start, we emphasize application mathematics,” says Ragaisis. “We tell students we’re going to use a lot of math and trigonometry. That scares them a little, but they can get past that. We bring it to life for them. We show them the academic math, bring it into a technical arena, then take them into the shop and demonstrate how to apply the math and make it work for them.”
Shawn Gorman graduated from the program in December, and in just a few months he became a full-time CNC machinist, and a part-time businessman making his own parts. He was employed by a fellow graduate of the NTMA training center. “I made 12 calls to machine shops in the area,” explains Shawn. “I went to two interviews, and at the second one, the guy hired me. He was a graduate of NTMA and he knew the kind of intensive, relevant education I had gotten there.”
Shawn wasn’t even sure what a machinist did when he discovered the training center on the Internet. “The perception I had of a machinist was kind of the one you would see in an old textbook. You open up a book and see an old guy with glasses, a long shop coat and old equipment,” says Shawn. “But when I got into the course, I realized there’s a lot of technology behind it. It’s a completely different world than I imagined. This is really high-tech stuff.”
The training center offers extensive hands-on training in entry-level machining, as well as advanced courses in CNC machining, programming and inspection, using Haas Automation vertical machining centers and turning centers, and Haas CNC control simulators for classroom instruction. ”We have six simulators for students to practice programming, along with seven Haas vertical machining centers and eight Haas CNC lathes. We wouldn’t have any CNC equipment without Haas,” said Tony Tammer, former director of training.
The NTMA training center in Fremont is also a Haas Technical Education Center (HTEC), meaning it has an official partnership with the local Haas Factory Outlet. The goal of the HTECs is for students to take theory out of the classroom and apply it in a manufacturing environment.
The NTMA training center works closely with the Haas training department to improve instructional materials, so that students are prepared to enter the workforce. “It has been great to work with Haas to make sure the students are getting the best training available,” says Tony.
“We specialize in machining,” says Ragaisis. “We have no other subjects. Our instructors have many years of experience in the industry. They all come from the field and teach practical, useful knowledge and application. Some instructors have their own shops or consult for industry, and some have European experience. We bring all that experience and knowledge to our students. That’s what we do best.”
Shawn feels the training was just what he needed. “I use another brand of machine where I work now, but when I started the job, I didn’t know anything about them,” Shawn says. ”I wish I could have stayed on Haas machines, but the training prepared me for any type of CNC machine.”
Shawn now works at Omega Precision in Tracy; he loves working in a job shop. “I love being a machinist,” he says, “and it took me all of about two months to get into my own enterprise through the shop. I’m working at the shop, but I’m also designing and making my own aftermarket automotive parts.”
The training center prepared Shawn to be a machinist, and from there he has been able to apply the skills to his own interests. So far, Shawn has designed five types of gearshift knobs that he machines out of 304 stainless steel.
For Shawn, the NTMA training center was the perfect fit of technology and hands-on application. With his new love for machining, he hopes to expand his own business of aftermarket auto parts. ”If things keep going the way they are,” Shawn says, “maybe someday I’ll have my own shop and Haas machines.”
- A New Generation of Machinists, Peter B. Alpern, January 19th, 2010
- From Unemployed to Machinist to Businessman: A Training Success Story, Scott Weersing