Advanced Manufacturing

Businesses have jobs, but no properly trained workers

Aiming for grant to teach advanced manufacturing skills

GREENFIELD — Advanced manufacturing companies up and down the Pioneer Valley have job openings, but employers say that few here in Franklin County possess the necessary skills and training to qualify for the jobs.

In an effort to jump-start the industry, a team of stakeholders has created an intensive 220-hour training program that introduces unemployed and underemployed adults to the advanced manufacturing world.

The so-called Middle Skills Academy could start as early as this fall, if the parties can secure a $240,000 state grant they applied for. Classes would be free for participants for the first four cycles of the program. And they would be virtually guaranteed jobs at the end.

For 14 weeks, a group of about 12 adults would train four nights a week at Franklin County Technical School and Greenfield Community College — where they would be introduced to hands-on machine shop training, as well as critical thinking and general education courses.

With guidance from the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board, the program graduates would then be able to find work at one of about 30 local manufacturing companies. The grant would pay for four cycles of the program, and training for about 50 total participants.

No such program exists in the county, but it is essential to the job sector’s growth here, said Steven Capshaw, president of the Greenfield-based Valley Steel Stamp. His company turns away 90 percent of the work it is being offered because of an inadequate amount of skilled workers.

Gone are the days when manufacturers repeat simple physical commands all day long, he said. Today, employees must be able to look at a blueprint and then use advanced math and computer programming to manipulate machines into performing tasks.

“It’s basically like becoming a doctor,” said Capshaw. His employees have “been training constantly for six to eight years on robotics, on coordinate measuring machines, on statistical process controls.”

Employees hired out of the Middle Skills Academy could conceivably make $50,000 in their first year, said Capshaw.

The $240,000 grant, along with $78,000 in matching funds from all of the contributing parties, would pay for curriculum development, teachers, a career mentor position and costs to keep the schools open after hours.

Valley Steel Stamp and Bete Fog Nozzle, also of Greenfield, are helping to draft the technical curriculum, and GCC will provide critical thinking and the general education courses.

The Tech School provides the instructional machine shop setting and, thanks to an effort led by Capshaw, will have up-to-date technology this fall, said Superintendent James Laverty.

Capshaw created a foundation — the FCTS Machine Technology Fund — that has so far raised $130,000, largely from donations by area manufacturing companies, to update aging machines at the Tech School. That improved technology will also help the Tech School beef up its advanced manufacturing program, which graduates about 12 each year.

All of the parties will finalize details about the program, including who will teach the classes, during the spring and summer months.

Grant recipients are announced in April, and the group would have to come up with a modified plan, perhaps of shorter duration, if it did not receive as much money as it hopes for.

The ultimate goal would be for the program to become self-sustaining when the grant runs out in 2016, through the implementation of tuition, said Patricia Crosby, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board.

And the Middle Skills Academy could someday expand to include other job sectors, including health care, renewable energy/energy efficiency and business.

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