Follow on Twitter
on October 23, 2013 at 9:46 AM, updated October 23, 2013 at 9:48 AM
MUSKEGON, MI -- The bulletin board in the CNC training room at Muskegon Community College is covered with help-wanted notices put there by Instructor Tom Groner.
They are from Muskegon manufacturers looking for highly-skilled workers, the kind that Groner and his colleague Tom Martin are training through new CAD/CNC hybrid programs at the college.
The bulletin board is proof that manufacturing is alive and well in Muskegon, even if there are fewer people working in the industry, said Dan Rinsema-Sybenga, dean of workforce and talent development at MCC.
And that's exactly why the new programs that combine Computer Aided Design – CAD – with Computer Numerical Control – CNC – are so needed, Rinsema-Sybenga said. As workforces decline, the "silos" created by CAD designers and those who program computers to create the designs need to be torn down, he said.
"What industry wants is a guy who can do both," Martin said. "The guys who can do both have the most opportunity."
With the help of federal funding designed to help displaced workers, the college developed an "accelerated" eight-week program that fast tracks students into skilled manufacturing careers. The CAD/CNC Accelerated Academy allows students to bypass general education classes and get entry level training in both CAD and CNC – earning three college credits in CAD and three in machine technology. Previously, the courses took 15 weeks to complete.
It's enough for some to get their foot in the door at local manufacturing plants. But college officials are encouraging Accelerated Academy students to continue on to the college's new CAD/CNC certificate program, which requires one year of training, or an associate's degree in CAD/CNC.
Valarie Shelby, grant coordinator for the CAD/CNC program, said the instruction is very technical. Standing outside an MCC computer lab used by CAD students, she said the training students receive is far above any she witnessed when she worked in manufacturing.
"These are skilled labor jobs they're preparing for," she said. "They have to be really committed to be in this program."
Martin, who is chairman of MCC's Applied Technologies Department, said he is working with employers to encourage their workers to continue their education beyond the Accelerated Academy.
"It's in the best interest of both the worker and the employer," he said.
Bob Becklin, the apprenticeship coordinator at Anderson Global in Muskegon Heights, said completing the Accelerated Academy would be a big help to someone hoping to get on the company's apprenticeship list. It's from that list that Anderson Global hires new employees, who serve as apprentices for five years before they become journeymen earning $26.18 per hour.
"The need is great," Becklin said. "The manufacturing jobs we have here at Anderson are so high-tech and so high-paced, it's really cool to have people to have those skills .. To come not at ground zero, but up a few steps... it might put them in a better situation of getting on our list."
Anderson Global manufactures foundry tooling at its local plant that has about 165 employees. That's up from 120 workers just two years ago, Becklin said.
Among the requirements of Anderson Global apprentices is that they complete 10 classes at MCC, Becklin said. The CAD/CNC classes fit perfectly into the type of training apprentices need in the factory where employees thrive if they have multiple skills, said Becklin, who also serves as the plant's bench room supervisor and safety director.
Phillip Daneff was a cook in the U.S. Army, but knew when he was discharged that he wanted a career in a high-demand, high-wage area. After doing some research, and building on CAD instruction he had while in high school, he chose CAD and CNC.
"I've always been interested in CNC and auto CAD," Daneff said. "I knew that's where the big money was made."
He didn't know how to get started in the career until he learned about the CAD/CNC Accelerated Academy at MCC. He enrolled and now is in his second week with seven other students.
"I absolutely love it," Daneff said. "It's definitely a good starting point. ... It's not something for everybody. It's certainly challenging."
To help move students quickly through the program, and to receive more intensive training, the college spent about $85,000 in federal funding on new equipment. The equipment includes 13 new CNC simulators, which are essentially the computer portion of a mill that is used to program the tool path the mill will use to produce a part.
The college also bought several mini mills as well as a coordinate measuring machine that was a special request of Alcoa Howmet, which needs workers trained in the highly precise measuring.
Groner, the machining instructor, said he emphasizes students having fun while learning skills that are coveted by manufacturers. Students, he said, are amazed by the molds they can create in just a short while – and of the job openings posted on his bulletin board.
"We've opened the world to these guys," he said.