Machining Program at pTEC Addresses a National Need for Skilled Machinists

Peter Buczynsky, owner of PharmaWorks, manufacturing company in Odessa FL wants to expand his business and move into a bigger facility. He can’t. New England Machinery, another manufacturer located in Manatee County, FL is looking to expand its payroll. So far it hasn’t. These companies are not holding back due to a hiring freeze. According to recent reports published in the Tampa Tribune and in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, they are being held back due to an acute shortage of skilled workers. As schools slash funding for technical programs, manufacturers across the board are increasingly finding it difficult to find skilled machinists, engineers and technicians.

In an effort to fill this void for qualified, skilled and certified workers, pTEC (Pinellas Technical Education Center) in Clearwater, FL currently offers the Precision Machining Technology program. Eric McClendon, assistant director at the Campus is a machinist supporter extraordinaire who says “every consumer and industrial product exists because of machining…our modern life completely depends on the hard work and ingenuity of machinists.” The mission of the program, he says, is to prepare students for employment as entry level machinists, tool makers, lathe operators, mill operator, grinding operators, electrical discharge machine (EDM) operators and computer numerical control (CNC) machine operator/basic programmers. “We offer a problem solving atmosphere, and we share with them our experiences, which allows them to learn and be excited with this program.”

Centrally connected and embedded into the program is a state registered apprenticeship program that is tied to the NIMS (National Institute of Metal Working Skills) Certification. NIMS was started by several metal working trade associations to develop metal working skills standards. Over a period of time it developed different levels of testing standards that range from Machinists level 1 through III. These skills standards are currently formulated and recognized by industry across the nation.

At pTEC, students enrolled in the Precision Machining Technology program can choose up to four apprentice programs out of a total of 10. These apprentice programs train 34 students currently enrolled in the apprentice program to either be a certified machinist, CNC programmer/operator, CNC machinist or mold maker etc. The NIMS System affords
maximum flexibility for trainees and employers alike. In that, the system “rewards trainees enabling them to advance at their own pace in defined career ladders throughout the metalworking industry.” Using attained competencies in lieu of a rigid set of hours, employers are able to effectively monitor and measure progress and reward individual initiative. Roy Sweatman, owner and president of Southern Manufacturing Technologies, a precision custom high-tech manufacturer in Tampa, agrees the competency based learning offered by the pTEC Machining program helps students learn things at their own pace based on their competencies. “A lot of manufacturing has moved offshore, and a few of us are working on getting manufacturing back onshore, and the NIMS program is a step towards that direction.” Sweatman said.

Industry certification is undoubtedly the cornerstone of the program. In addition to the NIMS certification, the machining program offers four, 30 hour courses in Safety, Manufacturing Processes & Production, Quality Practices & Measurement, and Maintenance Awareness which is part of the national Manufacturing Skill Standards Council certification (MSSC). Upon graduation, students not only earn a certificate of completion from pTEC, but a certificate from the Department of Education, Apprenticeship Division as well as a NIMS and MSSC certifications. Students completing the program can also receive college credits that can be transferred to a four year engineering program in Florida. “Industry recognizes and values certifications which in turn increases compensation and employability opportunities” McClendon said.

Indeed, the machining program together with the NIMS and MSSC certification is a powerhouse for graduating students. Given the high demand for machinists across the nation, graduates are assured of several lucrative opportunities serving as machine operators, machinists, tool & dye makers, designers, engineers or even entrepreneurs and business owners. A great advantage to students is that they are highly marketable and can get a job anywhere in the country. A claim confirmed by Sweatman who says “if someone walks into my office with a NIMS credential I will hire them immediately.”

For more information on the NIMS certification and the machining program at pTEC contact Eric McClendon at MCCLENDONE@pcsb.org, or visit www.myptec.org. For information on FLATE and its industry centered curriculum and outreach initiatives contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.fl-ate.org and www.madeinflorida.org.