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Advanced Manufacturing

New ‘tools’ needed to train new generation of machinists

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Franklin County Technical School freshman Zack Korpiewski uses a Bridgeport lathe that is older than he is to machine a metal part.  The school is hoping to update its equipment.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Franklin County Technical School freshman Zack Korpiewski uses a Bridgeport lathe that is older than he is to machine a metal part. The school is hoping to update its equipment.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>VSS owner Steve Capshaw uses CNC, computer numerical control, machines in his Greenfield shop to machine metal parts for his customers.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    VSS owner Steve Capshaw uses CNC, computer numerical control, machines in his Greenfield shop to machine metal parts for his customers.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>VSS owner Steve Capshaw uses CNC, computer numerical control, machines in his Greenfield shop to machine metal parts for his customers.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    VSS owner Steve Capshaw uses CNC, computer numerical control, machines in his Greenfield shop to machine metal parts for his customers.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Franklin County Technical School freshman Zack Korpiewski uses a Bridgeport lathe that is older than he is to machine a metal part.  The school is hoping to update its equipment.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>VSS owner Steve Capshaw uses CNC, computer numerical control, machines in his Greenfield shop to machine metal parts for his customers.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>VSS owner Steve Capshaw uses CNC, computer numerical control, machines in his Greenfield shop to machine metal parts for his customers.

GREENFIELD — Manufacturing is dead; long live manufacturing, say Franklin County economic leaders who led a “myth-busting” panel discussion Friday.

“We turn away, right now, 80 percent of the work that’s offered to us,” said Valley Steel Stamp President Steven Capshaw, “and we do so because there’s no chance we can get to more work than what’s already being done, because we don’t have the bodies.”

In addition to the campaign Capshaw is spearheading with nearly 40 companies to raise $250,000 toward new equipment for the Franklin County Technical School, he and the other panelists at a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting pointed to efforts to win a state match for that equipment, plus $240,000 state grant funding to set up an adult education program at the tech school, changes in the electrical code and other initiatives to rebuild the region’s advanced manufacturing sector.

“There’s no time to rest right now,” said Michael Baines, Franklin-Hampshire Regional Employment Board’s Science, Technology Engineering and Math specialist. “We need to be working hard to solve some of these problems.”

Those “skills gap” problems involve the need to fill the “middle skills” manufacturing jobs that require more than a high-school diploma but less than a college degree — 100,000 of them statewide over the next 10 years, according to one Northeastern University estimate. Study after study cited by Baines show that the Pioneer Valley is losing its young workers to the eastern part of the state, and there aren’t enough workers trained in computerized manufacturing skills to begin to replace retiring workers, let alone take on potential growth caused by rising labor prices in China.

“Re-shoring is really starting to gang up on our abilities,” said Ed Leyden, CEO of Ben Franklin Design and Manufacturing in Agawam. The 40-to-1 advantage China had in its pay scale is now down to 6-to-1, he said, “and that’s great, but we’re having trouble handling the work we have now. It probably will get worse before it gets better. When you start telling your customers you can’t do that, they’re going to go elsewhere.”

Massachusetts, Leyden was told at a recent National Governors Association meeting, is leading the other states in trying to get trained young workers into this newly emerging sector — news that he called “scary,” because the average age of workers in manufacturing firms in the Pioneer Valley is about 63, not 33.

What Leyden and other manufacturers did in Hampden County, collaborating to get $500,000 in state money to retool their technical school, caught the eye of Capshaw, who says manufacturing here still suffers from the stigma as a dirty, repetitive, mundane sector whose workers lost jobs to their counterparts overseas.

“We just got a contract for a part that was done in China before,” said Capshaw, “and that would have been unthinkable five or 10 years ago. We could hire four people right now at $60,000 to $80,000 a year, with the ability to program, set up and run the programs independently. But there’s no point in trying because they haven’t existed for 10 years.”

To replace Franklin County Tech’s 1970s-era equipment, which he said looks like what filled Greenfield Tap and Die and other machine shops in the 1960s, his consortium has raised nearly $170,000 for the FCTS Machine Technology Fund toward the $250,000 it’s trying to raise for new, state-of-the-art, industry-standard equipment to train workers.

The goal is to attract a $250,000 match from the state to buy a dozen computerized lathes, mills and grinders to train a dozen tech school students a year.

“Money is not flowing in the state budget for a lot of things,” Capshaw said. “It is for skills gap and adult education.”

In addition, the Franklin-Hampshire Regional Employment Board, working with the Tech School and Greenfield Community College, has applied for a $240,000 Workforce Competitive Trust Fund grant to create a “middle skills training program” for adults at the school. The funding, which the board expects to hear word of in April, would provide for three rounds of 13½ week training sessions for 12 adults in computer-operated machining.

The employment board has already begun accepting pre-applications for the training at its website, www.franklinhampshirereb.org.

When Hampden County’s employment board surveyed 42 manufacturers up and down the Pioneer Valley, they said they need to hire 681 new workers over the next three years, one-third of them just to replace retirees, said Capshaw, extrapolating that number to 3,600 throughout the Pioneer Valley. That’s contrasted with just 200 tech school manufacturing graduates expected to graduate from schools around the valley over that time.

“Companies are in a crisis mode,” said Capshaw, whose own Greenfield company has grown over the past three years from 25 to 40 workers.

Unlike in Hampden County, where manufacturers have collaborated to call for $500,000 over the past few years and a $750,000 line item in the state budget for adult education, “Franklin County has gotten zero.”

While he still expects some “short-term pain” in trying to meet the growing demand, Capshaw said the focus should be on the long-term benefit, not simply just the 100 well-paid workers who might be hired by Franklin County companies today, but the thousands that could be hired over the next 15 to 20 years.

“Locally, the county would look very different,” Capshaw said.

And his estimates are not wild-eyed, based on contacting the 50 precision manufacturing companies around the region to validate the need for the Regional Employment Board grant application. He was told the companies needed to show a commitment to hire at least 36 new workers over the next three years; the first 14 companies he contacted said they are ready to hire 42 immediately.”

Meanwhile, Gregory Garrison, general manager and chief financial officer of Northeast Solar Design in Hatfield, said his business depends not just on people who can bolt together solar panels, but also do engineering, site preparation and analysis. Garrison said he finds a “skill set gap” based on the need for an electrician’s license, which requires five years of experience as an electrical journeyman.

“It’s a very slow process,” Garrison told the gathering. “We’ve had 200 percent growth over the last two years but can’t maintain that pace of quality work without the skills.”

Garrison said he’s collaborating with others in the renewable energy sector to call for changing the state electrical code.

“There should be certification to allow someone to plug in panels without touching the (electrical) box,” he said “In our industry, the technology is changing very rapidly. To install a larger system, you have to have one line drawing stamped by a licensed electrical engineer. In Western Mass., there are two who work in solar.”

Baines emphasized the significance of helping restart the newly energized, more advanced manufacturing sector, and the need for all kinds of businesses to support the push as an investment for the overall economy.

“This is going to have to happen even if this ($240,000 grant) doesn’t go through,” he said. “These employers need these people. Between the efforts of the state, the Tech School and GCC, the regional board and the manufacturers themselves, “This is what we need to help launch it, and make it work well.”

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