Manufacturers aim to retool Tech School machine shop
Greenfield Recorder 02/15/2013, Page A01
By CHRIS SHORES Recorder Staff
TURNERS FALLS — When local manufacturing companies look at Franklin County Technical School, they see eager students who are not getting the proper training they need to enter today’s work force.
Students in the machine technology program do most of their work on 40-year-old manual metal-working machines, spending little time on equipment operated through computer programming. That is because the state has never contributed money to bring new technology into the Tech School, said Superintendent James Laverty.
But a grassroots campaign of area manufacturers — spearheaded by Steven Capshaw, president of the Greenfield-based Valley Steel Stamp — is aiming to raise $500,000 to install new machines in the Tech School this summer that will be more in line with industry standards.
Eight companies have already donated $149,500 into a foundation, the FCTS Machine Technology Fund, and nearly 20 others have expressed their intention to contribute, said Capshaw.
He hopes local input will total $250,000, and state legislators have indicated they will try to secure that amount in matching state money.
A need for new equipment
Area machine shops are reluctant to hire under-trained Tech School students, said Capshaw, because companies would then have to spend a lot of time and money to train the graduates on modern technology.
But creating a pool of ready-towork graduates would set up new good-paying jobs for local teens, he said. And it would also enable manufacturing companies to grow, because the low number of qualified job-seekers has forced them to turn away potential work.
The Tech School’s machine shop uses the same equipment that was installed when the school opened in the mid-1970s, said Laverty. Freshmen learn on the manual machines, before moving on in their next year to ones used in the industry today — machines controlled by a computer that require extensive programming knowledge to operate.
Tech School students learn programming and computeraided designs in computer lab classes. But because the shop only has one computer-guided metal-working machine, the students aren’t able to log the necessary practice hours to be ready for work post-graduation, said Capshaw.
That isn’t the case at vocational schools in Hampden County, he said, where students are using modern machines regularly for three years. Those schools have seen significant private and public financial investments, which have allowed them to buy new equipment and build students up to an advanced manufacturing skill level, he said.
The manufacturing industry has seen dramatic changes, he said. Gone are the days when employees performed the same mundane motions.
The computers do the brunt work now, but it’s up to the employee to manipulate and program them — using multiple tools to complete multiple tasks at a rapid pace.
“It involves people using their brains rather than their muscles,” said Capshaw.
He has hired workers out of high school at a salary $45,000 to $55,000. One Tech School alum, who graduated eight years ago, will make $90,000 this year, said Capshaw. But companies are struggling to find enough qualified employees to hire, which has forced them to turn away potential work, he said.
Raising money for equipment
If the FCTS Machine Technology Fund reaches its goal of $500,000, work would be done this summer at the Tech School to install new equipment and renovate and brighten the machine shop.
Capshaw said that the companies would purchase at least 12 new machines — a collection of lathes, mills and grinders — with the potential to buy five additional machines with “advanced” capabilities. Renovation work over the summer would include refitting some of the shop space to serve as an adjacent classroom, as well as aesthetic changes like painting the walls.
The end product would be a shop that has better equipment, looks cleaner and better utilizes space, said Capshaw. It would be modeled after machine shops in Hampden County vocational schools.
Local manufacturers have put money into the foundation in hopes that the investment will help churn out potential employees and expand the industry in Franklin County.
“We weren’t advocating as companies, as the Tech School and as educators,” said William Dufraine of the duMONT Co. “Now we’re trying to make up for some lost time and set up a structure which will allow us to carry forward.”
With new machines, the Tech School would produce a senior class of 12 students each year ready to work.
The space would also be used to put 50 adults through intensive 14-week training over the next three years — a proposed “Middle Skills Academy” project that is banking on receiving state funding this April.
Since Capshaw began fundraising with companies in December, there has yet to be a company to turn him away, he said.
Eight businesses have already donated money, which will be rolled into the foundation over a period of three years.
Four companies — Greenfield businesses Bete Fog Nozzle, duMONT and Valley Steel Stamp, and Turners Falls’ Hassay Savage — will contribute $30,000 each to the cause.
Mayhew Steel Products, of Turners Falls, will donate $15,000.
Greenfield’s Applied Dynamics and Northfield’s Sisson Engineering each put in $5,000 and Small Corp., of Greenfield, will give $4,500.
Other companies have pledged to contribute but have not yet done so, said Capshaw.
Local politicians on board
Meanwhile, Capshaw has taken his pitch to Beacon Hill to ask Franklin County legislators to match a local contribution of $250,000.
Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said legislators are eager to help with the effort and will soon begin discussing the best options for securing money.
While nothing is certain in the budget process, Kulik was encouraged to learn that Hampden County schools have been given money in the past for similar projects.
“There’s precedent for this in other parts of the state. That helps a lot,” he said.
Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, was impressed by a tour he took of Valley Steel Stamp’s factory, saying that its clean and bright facilities and its use of “cutting edge technology” was different from what he had imagined the manufacturing industry to look like.
And Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said that he is interested in contributing to any project that could improve job growth in the region.
“Machining is something we’ve been focusing on in western Massachusetts,” he said. “It would be great if we could extend this up Route 91, from Springfield and Hampden County up to Greenfield and Montague and Franklin County in general.”
While state legislators work in Boston, Capshaw will continue to seek investments from local manufacturing companies. He will continue to post updates of the foundation’s progress on its Facebook page, “FCTS Machine Technology.”
Construction and installation will happen this summer to some degree, regardless of the total amount the foundation raises, said Capshaw. But any amount short of $500,000 will mean that the Tech School will continue to lag behind its counterparts to the south, he said.
The foundation plans to purchase machines from Haas Automation, which offers educational discounts, said Capshaw. The equipment ranges in price from $20,000 to $70,000.
In a separate project, Laverty said he will ask his school committee to begin pursuing a renovation to the school, which would expand the machine’s shop space by 50 percent.
Those discussions will begin this month, and wouldn’t see fruition for at least two to three years.