Machinist jobs are out there, demand is strong
Reprinted with Permission The Journal Record, Hamilton AL
HAMILTON - Prentice Howell was fully prepared to discuss his department.
But he didn’t have to, at least, not at first. His students did the talking, explaining how what they’ve learned as students in Howell’s machine tool technology program at Bevill State Community College-Hamilton is preparing them for careers--well-paying careers--as machinists.
When Howell’s students found out their instructor was going to be interviewed, after first serving up some good-natured kidding, they told his story.
And Howell probably couldn’t have done any better himself.
Cassidy Cagle, a 2009 graduate of Haleyville High School, will graduate in April from the machine tool technology program.
“If you can think it, you can make it,” Cagle began. “There’s job availability, job security. If you can run a CNC (computer numerical control) machine, they want you.”
Cagle, like many of the other students who were interviewed, already has a plan for his future as a machinist. “I’m looking at going to a place in Mobile called BAE (BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards). I know someone that works there and she loves it. There is such a demand (for machinists), great pay, and a great atmosphere (at BAE),” Cagle said.
Howell explained that the woman who now works at BAE is one of his former students from Berry. She graduated in May and went to work there and is bringing home about $1,100 a week after taxes. The instructor said “she got this job on her own, did a job search on the Internet, and filled out an application online and was hired. Pretty much if you’ve been through this program, they’ll hire you.”
Aaron Carrouth of Beaverton is a freshman student in the program. He graduated in May from Sulligent High School and during his high school years went to classes at the Lamar County Center for Technology in Vernon. By attending the tech school in Vernon, Carrouth had transfer credit when he enrolled at Bevill State.
Carrouth’s father, Lynn Carrouth, works at NAACO (formerly Hyster Corp., now NAACO, which makes forklift parts) in Sulligent, brought some of his work home for his son to see. “It looked cool,” he said.
His interest was furthered when an employee in NAACO’s human resources department “told me if they’ve been through your (Bevill State’s) program, we will hire you.”
Howell said in the past, NAACO had to train machinists from within. That’s changed now since programs, such as BSCC-Hamilton’s machine tool technology program produces ready-to-work employees.
Zak Ganey, 20, is a 2010 Brilliant High graduate who will be graduating soon from the two-year associate degree program. Ganey said his love of the program and the career he will soon undertake come from “taking raw metal and making something out of it, making a part.” He said following graduation he went to Bevill State and began taking general studies courses. But Ganey soon discovered that wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do. “I want good pay, job security,” he said. “I talked to Prentice (about machine tool technology), did some further research online and started taking classes. I enjoy it.”
Grinning as he said it, Ganey added, “And they’ve got heated and cooled shops to work in.” Ganey has even found the knowledge he is gaining as a machinist furthers his passion for drag racing motorcycles.
Admitting that he’s “been a little bit of everywhere” drag racing his bike, Ganey said that he, his parents and girlfriend follow the circuit on weekends.
“This field of schooling has a big place in any racing. There’s a big pull for this field in the racing industry,” Ganey stressed.
Ganey said he recently repaired a clutch plate in the machine tool technology shop at Bevill State. “I fixed the plate here at the shop. It was warped, but I had the ability and knowledge to do it,” adding that he’s also made some clutch setup adjustments for his drag bikes at the shop.
Howell said machine tool technology also “bleeds over into other sports.” He explained that Carrouth, who is an avid hunter, designed and machined a mount for a video camera for his bow.
Much like Carrouth, Ganey’s father played a part in helping point the way toward his studies in machine tool technology. “My dad’s a coal miner and they’ve got a machinist at the coal mine where he works. Dad told him about me and he sent me some tools home, kinda helped me out. I haven’t decided where (he wants to work), but wherever the best job I can find. I don’t really want to move too far away.”
Machine tool technology student Tyler Autrey of Winfield is a little older than his fellow students. At 25, he originally went to college seeking a degree in chemistry, but changed his mind and joined the U.S. Army. A heart condition ended his service stint, and with his honorable discharge in hand, Autrey came home and went to work at Walmart in Winfield, a job he still holds while attending Bevill State.
His father had a friend who talked to Autrey about becoming a machinist, and he followed that conversation by talking to Howell about the program.
“It just seemed I was supposed to do it. I like the work here, running machines. It’s kinda fun. I know it sounds weird, but to me, it’s fun. And there’s good money when you get out.”
Autrey, a 2006 graduate of Winfield City High School, has researched--quite thoroughly, too--where he wants to go to work upon graduation: Canada.
“There’s real good pay (in Canada). I know I’m going to have a family one day, and (Canada’s) education is really good. I think it’s the third best (in the world) in education,” Autrey said, noting that level of learning is what he wants his future children to receive. Autrey has even gone so far as to research cost-of-living expenses in "The Great White North.” “Vancouver is about $1,500 a month for everything and north of that, about $1,000 a month.”
Howell then began to follow his students’ personal interview segments with an overall look at the program. He explained that students will learn to read blueprints and precision measuring instruments and operate various machines in order to produce a part, assembly, or an entire machine.
Howell said “most of the time, students are given several prints during a semester and they produce the part.” Students were recently asked to design and produce adapter plates to install an electric forklift motor in a Chevy pickup.
“They are also assigned the task of designing and producing their own part or assembly. The clutch plate and camera mount mentioned previously are examples of this assignment,” Howell said. This can be anything they want, so long as it meets Howell’s parameters. He noted, “These real-world projects promote creativity and critical thinking.”
To begin the program, Howell said his department had loaner tools available. Eventually, a student will spend between $500 and $1,000 for the tools he will need in his career as a machinist, Howell said. “Usually, you can buy tools from your employer,” Howell said, referring to a new, on-the-job machinist. “But a lot of these tools are really specialized, and often those aren’t required and there are tools you just may not need (on a particular job).” But even as the students and Howell were being interviewed, one student approached Ganey and asked to borrow one of his tools, a request which Ganey quickly responded to by pointing out where he could find it in his toolbox.
“This is a smart, good group,” Howell said. “They are a brotherhood--they all work together and help each other.” The number of students in Howell’s class varies, from 12-30. “The only thing about it is, you’ve got to take the academic classes as well, which is basically a review of what you studied in high school. Music and art, English. While you may want to be learning your trade skill, you have to take these as well,” Howell said.
When asked what it takes to become a machinist, Howell said, “Simple math skills and a little common sense, attention to detail, having pride in your work and using creative and critical thinking.” Howell said when his students go to work as machinists on the job, “They (the plant supervisors) expect you to do it right and do it right the first time.”
Howell has several years experience in the machining field and has been teaching machine tool technology at Bevill State for 21 years. He’s a product of the college himself, learning the trade from Paul Sisson. “I hadn’t been out of school six months when they wanted me to come back (as the machine tool technology instructor),” Howell recalled.
Howell and his wife, Charlotte, who is the counselor at Hackleburg High School, are both Hackleburg natives. Their son, Brady, graduated from Hackleburg in 2012 and is an ambassador at BSCC-Hamilton.
One of Howell’s main concerns is the lack of interest in the machinist trade today.
“The jobs are out there; I don’t know why people aren’t taking advantage of them. The demand is there,” he said. Female students are rare in his department, Howell admitted, but it’s certainly not because they’re not capable or able. “We just usually don’t have that many women,” Howell confided. “But women tend to do well, they have more attention to detail and have more patience.”
Concerning students in general who choose to become machinists, Howell said “a little mechanical ability helps, as well as having an idea how some stuff works, the ability to use tools and basic computer skills.”
The machine tool technology department has both manual and computer CNC equipment, and Howell teaches both methods. “It depends on where you go to work (on whether a machinist will use manual or computer CNC equipment),” Howell said. “I rarely have anyone do manual milling (on the job), but it makes it easier teaching manual before moving to the computer.”
Concerning CNC machining (producing complex shaped surfaces with a machine), students “go in the computer lab, draw it on the computer, transfer the code created by the computer to the machine and it creates it.”
And if the computer drawing doesn’t match up with what the milling machine can do?
Howell said the computer will show the student if his drawing and computations are correct before the student sends it to the milling machine, thus preventing a major costly mechanical failure for the machine.
The department has approximately $250,000 worth of equipment, and the newest equipment includes the Haas VF 1 CNC Milling System Machining Center, which costs approximately $46,000.
Another recent addition to the program is a Charmilles Sinker EDM. Howell explained, “This machine can cut hardened tool steel and is used in the aerospace, automobile and electronics industries.” “You can program any part you can dream up, and it’ll basically make it,” Howell said proudly.
“Anything you can name, a machinist had touched it somewhere, made the parts to make it, to assemble it. “Auto mechanics talk about building a motor. He’s assembling the parts. We make the parts,” Howell noted.
About two months ago, Howell received a telephone call which he first thought was a prank call.
The caller said he was with Sons of Guns, a reality television series that airs on the Discovery Channel that centers on Red Jacket Firearms LLC, a Louisiana-based business that manufactures and sells custom weapons.
After finally deciding that the caller was real, Howell listened as the Sons of Gun representative explained that the weapon manufacturer was in need of some machinists who could make custom guns, redo them, totally remake them.
The caller, Howell said, was familiar with Bevill State because he was born in Amory, Miss. “But I told him I didn’t have anyone ready right now. He wanted someone to come in and run his shop. I told him I would have some ready before too long.”
Howell has an open-door invitation to anyone who would like to come talk to him about his course. He added financial aid is available to people who qualify. “Call and come see what you could learn to do, Monday through Thursday. I’d love for them to come take a look and talk with me and my students,” Howell said.
Howell can be reached by calling BSCC-Hamilton at (205) 921-3177, Ext. 5327, or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Regular registration is underway at Bevill State through Jan. 7, 2013, and late registration will be held Jan. 8-10.
Retirements result in shortages of machinists
Companies are hiring--with starting pay as high as $30 an hour
Reprinted with Permission - The Journal Record
HAMILTON - Referring to a Fox News report in late 2011 and a CNN-Money report from earlier this year, Bevill State Community College-Hamilton machine tool technology instructor Prentice Howell said 25 percent of the nation's welders, engineers and steelworkers are getting ready to retire.
The result will be a shortage of skilled workers to build and run the machines that run the nation.
Rob Akers, vice president at the National Tooling and Machining Association, told CNN-Money that there is a “critical shortage of machinists,” a common and crucial position in factories. “Enrollment in this field in technical schools has been down for a long time."
Fox News quoted veteran machinist Louis Quindlin.
“There's a huge demand for machinists. They're needed both in manufacturing, and the industrial maintenance side, which is repairing equipment, either pumps or valves, for refineries, water companies, waste water companies...”
Howell said Bevill State can help meet that demand because once students gain the skills, these students know a good paying job is virtually guaranteed.
From refineries to manufacturing plants, companies are hiring--with starting pay as high as $30 an hour, Howell said, referring to the report.
Howell said Fox News noted that “a good, top-level machinist can actually earn more than a manufacturing engineer these days,’’ according to a manufacturing manager at FM Industries in Fremont, Calif.
Howell said that a career as a machinist is perfect for those who are looking at a second or third career, a profession that could carry them through to retirement. Howell explained that students aren't just learning how to repair and maintain machines, they're designing and manufacturing parts and prototypes that will give them the skills to advance America's manufacturing industry--and keep America competitive.
The Fox News report stated a study done by the National Association of Manufacturers concluded the largest impediment to future growth is a skilled workforce.
Mitch Free, chief executive officer of MFG.com, an online directory that matches businesses with domestic manufacturers, told CNN-Money that as the United States outsourced its manufacturing jobs over the last few decades, the country lost a significant chunk of its manufacturing talent pool.
“Now, as manufacturing is slowly coming back, we just don't have this talent quickly available,’’ said Free, a machinist by training.
Every factory needs a machinist to operate it, whether it's to operate machines or to create machine parts. And machinists also create molds and casings to make plastic parts that are used in everyday products, such as computers and cell phones, said Free.
Free told CNN-Money that machinists make about $60,000 a year. But with many logging overtime lately, Free said that income can get close to $100,000 a year.
He continued, "This is also a highly technical craft. It requires knowledge of computers, programming, even geometry. You can't hire someone off the street and turn them into a machinist."
A constant theme in the CNN-Money report noted that finding more work isn't the problem; getting the worker is becoming a problem.
Howell concluded, “That's why training the next generation of machinists is critical to ensuring America remains a nation of builders.”