Greenfield Recorder 09/14/2013, Page A01
By CHRIS SHORES Recorder Staff
TURNERS FALLS — It started months ago with an idea based on a simple fact: local manufacturing companies estimated they were turning down 90 percent of their potential work because they didn’t have enough qualified employees.
Their only major stream of new workers — the Franklin County Technical School, with great intentions but handicapped by 40-year-old equipment — wasn’t producing graduates ready to jump into the work force without extensive remedial training.
So the companies formulated a plan to raise money for 14 new machines for the school.
They also joined forces with the tech school, Greenfield Community College and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board to build a program that would train unemployed and underemployed workers in advanced manufacturing skills.
And now — after months of fundraising, curriculum planning, application processing and a complete overhaul of the tech school’s machine shop — the first students of the Middle Skills Manufacturing Initiative, colloquially called the “Middle Skills Academy,” will begin their free advanced manufacturing training program Monday.
The 15 students, ranging in age from 22 to 59, will meet at the tech school on Monday through Thursdayafternoons, for four hours each day. At the end of their 12-week program, they’ll be expected to know how to take on manufacturing projects by hand and by computer — learning everything from blueprint reading to computer programming.
The 220-hour training will also include career preparation. Companies will be looking to hire these students right out of the gate, with salaries around $50,000.
“Everyone in the industry is abuzz about this,” said Steven Capshaw, president of the Greenfield-based Valley Steel Stamp and the chief organizer of a local campaign that raised about $215,000 for the machines.
He believes that the Middle Skills Academy (which will train about 30 students each year) and the newly revamped tech school program (which annually graduates about 12) will provide the skilled labor needed to jump-start Franklin County’s manufacturing industry.
Job-ready skills in a machine shop environment
When the regional employment board began advertising its intent to start a free program that would help people with little or no work secure high-paying jobs, the response was — unsurprisingly — overwhelming.
More than a hundred people attended information sessions and about 70 applied for 15 slots, said Michael Baines, project manager for the regional employment board.
“This is an outstanding opportunity,” said Baines. “Where else can you go, and without a college degree, get 12 weeks of training and have the capacity to make $40,000 to $80,000 within a couple of years?”
The program doesn’t require prior advanced manufacturing experience but strong math and mechanical skills are essential. The board screened applicants and connected some who weren’t quite at the level needed with an online program to improve their skills before the next round of applications.
Although some women applied, they weren’t among the ones who made the 15-member roster, said Baines. Nine of the students are from Franklin County, four are from Hampshire County and two from Hampden County. Ten of the students are 40 or younger.
Two tech school teachers and 10 industry experts from local manufacturing companies will instruct the students.
Greenfield Community College officials have spent the past few months working with the tech school and industry experts on crafting the program’s curriculum.
Although a majority of the courses will deal with computers, students will also spend 20 hours on manufacturing math. About 36 hours will be spent reading blueprints and learning metrology, the scientific study of measurement.
It’s a program that will be very hands-on and projectbased, said Alyce Stiles, director of work force development for GCC. Students will build a specific manufacturing part with a manual machine and then watch as the task is completed on the computer-programmed equipment.
Thomas Tourigny, a teacher in the tech school’s machine tool technology program, said that someone could build a specific metal part in six hours on a manual machine and create that same part on a computer- programmed machine in under three minutes.
But it’s still essential to learn how to operate manual machines, he said.
Lessons will be held at the tech school’s machine shop, which underwent a massive renovation this summer. Manual lathes, milling machines and grinders were replaced with machines that can be operated both manually and by computer.
The walls and floors were redone to make the shop space brighter and more state of the art. Capshaw said that the space looks better than his own shop.
Public and private funding sources
In some ways it seemed that as soon as local manufacturing companies went public with their goal of raising $500,000 for new machines, everything fell into place.
Capshaw appealed to state legislators for help. The promise of new jobs and the local fundraising event was enough to sway lawmakers, who allocated $250,000 for the project.
The tech school also secured a $100,000 grant for the machine purchases.
Local companies put up $215,000 for the machines, said Capshaw. And there were about $200,000 in donations through discounts on equipment, he said.
The regional employment board, meanwhile, secured a $240,000 grant that covered the planning and implementation of the Middle Skills Academy, including paying for curriculum development and teaching.
The board will have to reapply for the grant or come up with alternate sources when money runs out in 2015.
Meanwhile, Capshaw said that local fundraising will continue and that companies will look to contribute about $30,000, plus a possible matching state contribution, to pay for yearly repairs and improvements to the tech school’s machine shop.