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Students in the machine tool technology program get hands-on experience in the trade. (Photo courtesy of Alexandria Technical and Community College)

Baby boomer babies not fulfilling American dream

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We don't have flying cars yet but the advancement of manufacturing between yesteryear and today is akin to the difference between Fred Flintstone craning rock at Slate Rock and Gravel Company and George Jetson operating R.U.D.I. at Spacely's Sprockets.

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A lot has changed in the industry during the past century. Still, the number of vacancies outnumbers the quantity of machinists graduating each year.

Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) is taking a proactive approach to the manufacturing employee shortage. The school is launching a machinist apprenticeship program starting spring 2013. Hoping to bring in eight to 10 enrollees, the school may waive the first semester's tuition.

"There's a shortage of machinists. It's a plain fact," said Jerry Hetland, director of apprenticeship programs at ATCC.

Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to attend classes full-time for two years. ATCC has recognized this hurdle and made the four-year machinist apprenticeship program adaptable to people who have to maintain a fulltime job and want to advance their career.

Hetland joined ATCC in May to design the apprenticeship program. He started out as a tool and die apprentice in the 1960s and saw a need today in the manufacturing mecca of Alexandria to attract more students to the trade.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Hetland said. He added that, with industry support, the college may add apprenticeships for other high demand technical careers in manufacturing and construction.

Hetland said 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require post-secondary education by 2018. A skilled machinist can earn $40,000 to $80,000 without a bachelor's degree.

"The program is set up for adults already in the workplace who are looking to get into a skilled profession," Hetland said. "Students can maintain a full-time job while getting training in the evenings."

National statistics show that in 2010, manufacturing workers in the U.S. averaged $77,186 annually, including pay and benefits, while workers in other industries took home $56,436, according to Hetland. By the end of the decade, the National Association of Manufacturers reported there will be 620,000 manufacturing job vacancies.

"More baby boomers are retiring than workers are coming out of school," Hetland said. "The students in our two-year program are being heavily recruited. There simply are more jobs than graduates."

Hetland said a shortage of workers has come about because many young people believed the misnomer that manufacturing was a dingy, dangerous career path and that many kids didn't want to follow in their parents' footsteps. He said much has changed over the years.

"Manufacturing jobs used to be very manual, now it's gotten more automated," Hetland said.

Machinists need to be more skilled and educated as machines become more complex and intricate. Many of the manual labor jobs have moved offshore to India and China, Hetland said. A machinist is not the same as a machine operator who will make around $10 an hour.

Employer sponsorship is a requirement for apprenticeships, which are paid, and makes the program a community effort. The apprentice must apply for apprenticeship, have the employer agree to formal standards of apprenticeship and the student's application must be accepted by both ATCC and the Minnesota Department of Labor.

"Our local area is way ahead in supporting manufacturing," Hetland said.

The program at ATCC is approved by the Minnesota Department of Labor and certified by the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Graduates will be certified Journeyworker Machinists.

Students will be introduced to tools, materials, measuring methods, programming, equipment and trade terms as well as trained in using computer numerical control (CNC), turning centers and precision grinders. Through on the job training, apprentices will become knowledgeable of metal varieties and cutting tools and in reading blueprints.

If a student chooses to pursue the machinist apprenticeship program she or he will need to invest four years. Two year associate in applied science and diploma options are also available for students who are entering the machine tool trade.

"There are no shortcuts in this; it just doesn't suffice," Hetland said. "This is a part of America, to generate a skill set and make a living wage."

To learn more about the machinist apprenticeship program at ATCC, visit www.alextech.edu, call Jerry Hetland at (320) 762-4437 or e-mail jerryh@alextech.edu.

MACHINING MATTERS

Every $1 spent in manufacturing adds $1.35 to the economy.

9 percent of Americans, 12 million people, are employed in manufacturing.

21 percent of the world's global manufactured products come from U.S. (China is second with 15 percent followed by Japan in third with 12 percent).

National Association of Manufacturers

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

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Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

(320) 763-1233
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