GRCC Hones Machinists Skills

August 7, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — As manufacturing jobs move away from the area, Grand RapidsCommunity College has a program that is helping displaced workers learn new skills to become more marketable.

The Machinist/Computer Numeric Control technician 18-week training program teaches students shop math, how to read blueprints and how to use the machinist handbook and hand tools, as well as bench work, layout, manual machine tool operation, precision measuring, computer operations, teamwork and communication skills.

Classes are seven hours a day and new sessions start every month to give students a chance to enter the work force sooner.

"It gets a person through the program quickly instead of going through a two-year associate's program," said Larry Pierson, machine tool instructor.

Though the students earn no credits for the training program, they do receive a certificate at the end. If they choose to continue their education at a later time, the classes may translate into credit, but Pierson advises those interested in a degree to take the credit classes, rather than the 18-week program.

The program gives participants an edge when they set out to find a manufacturing position, particularly if they have been displaced from their former job.

"They have the right set of skills so they can kind of hit the floor running," said George Waite, director of the TassellMichiganTechnicalEducationCenter in Grand Rapids. "The majority of the students who take advantage of that learning option are those who have worked in manufacturing before, but maybe haven't been really focused on machining equipment. It's a nice fit for somebody that has previous manufacturing experience."

Waite said the program is not exclusively for those with previous experience; students straight out of high school can also attend. But it may be overwhelming for someone who has not worked in manufacturing.

"It's just a lot of learning in a short period of time," he said.

The open format allows students to enter the program throughout the year, rather than only in fall or winter.

"It's kind of a unique delivery system that not many colleges do, but works really well for us," he said.

It is also a benefit to area companies.

"For them, it gives them a skilled, trained work force that they can access any month of the year," he said. "It really gives them a sharp tool in their tool box when they need to hire some new folks — to bring them right on board, ready to go."

Pierson said program participants find work in woodworking, furniture manufacturing, tool and die shops, maintenance, and as computer numeric control production operators.

Though demand for employees has been cyclic, Pierson said there has been more demand lately. Students can usually find work if they are aggressive in their search and realistic about a $10 to $12 an hour pay range for entry level work.

"Most everybody seems to get a job that comes out of here."    

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