Innoative, manufacturer-driven training getting results in Florida

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — As the human resources manager for HOERBIGER Corporation of America, David Gonzalez has successfully kept pace with his company’s growing need for employees during the last decade.

But when it came to hiring qualified computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinists, Gonzalez oftentimes found himself at a loss.

“It’s frustrating because you know that the individuals that are applying probably don’t have the skills, but with the market you’re in you have to take a chance and bring people on board at times,” said Gonzalez, whose division specializes in compression technology. “It’s very frustrating to be continually looking and looking for a certain skillset. Often it takes quite a long time to find that individual.”

That meant between five and 10 jobs going unfilled for years at a time.

As the number of technical schools offering training dwindled down to two in Broward County, Gonzalez and his company decided to be more proactive and sought out Longwood-based Machine Training Solutions for help. HOERBIGER enrolled in the company’s 80 to Work Program. Two weeks of intensive virtual reality training later, Gonzalez had new employees on the shop floor moving on with the next phase of their training.

“The simulation software is revolutionizing the way CNC is being taught,” said Richard Winslow, a lifelong manufacturer and MTS consultant. “It used to be one-on-one with a journeyman teaching an apprentice how to set up a piece of equipment. But there’s very little scalability and you end up with a liability associated with a piece of gear and the student, and it’s very expensive.”

MTS was developed by Manufacturers Association of Florida President Al Stimac, who is also on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Traveling throughout Florida and the country as a National Association of Manufacturers board member, Stimac “just kept seeing the real shortage of qualified CNC machinists,” Winslow said.

Stimac spent two years adapting software that is already the backbone of the German manufacturing apprenticeship program to fit what U.S. companies desperately needed.

For the past several years, the Florida manufacturing industry has benefited from partnerships between CareerSource Florida and post secondary institutions using MTS software.

Endorsed by CareerSource Florida, the MTS software has substantially lowered the initial costs for schools to enter the CNC training market.

Instead of purchasing machinery that can cost upwards of $500,000, schools can use the MTS software enabling students to set up and run programs as often as necessary. Students can test the boundaries with the virtual reality software without fear of crashing a machine and destroying the material being produced.

Students have access to the curriculum 24/7 from their home computers, so they can continue learning outside of the classroom with drastically-reduced raw material costs.

“The simulation system — and we’ve seen them all — is so far superior to what else is out there in the marketplace today it’s not even close in terms of being able to replicate a live piece of CNC equipment,” said Winslow, who works onsite with companies to train machinists.

Gonzalez said one of his favorite aspects of the MTS 80 to Work program with was the continued support.

“They came back in to do additional training beyond the on-the-job-training we provided,” Gonzalez said.

The manufacturing success in Pompano Beach was a factor in HOERBIGER’s recent decision to bring 420 more jobs and $43 million in capital to a plant in nearby Coral Springs.

Florida currently ranks among the nation’s top 10 states for manufacturing, and is home to nearly 19,000 manufacturing companies.

But the problem isn’t just a Florida one. Hiring managers like Gonzalez are not alone as a skills gap is hobbling the American manufacturing economy.

Nearly 2,000 October Manufacturing Day events in all 50 states were designed to highlight the industry and its career potential by welcoming students and leaders onto plant floors across the country.

Entry-level manufacturing engineers can expect to earn about $60,000 annually, with the average manufacturing worker earning in excess of $77,000 annually.

That’s $15,000 more than the average worker across all sectors.

“Manufacturing opens doors of opportunity for everyone,” NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said in the association’s most recent trade publication, Member Focus. “There are so many eager young people across the country seeking rewarding and exciting careers and manufacturing delivers that path every day.”

Manufacturing’s impact on the global economy is staggering.

Manufacturing pumps more than $2 trillion alone into the U.S. economy each year, meaning if the industry were its own economy, it would be the ninth-largest in the world.

But it’s suffering from a shortage of skilled workers.

In 2011, some 600,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs went unfilled.

Looking back, those were the good old days for manufacturers.

According to the National Manufacturing Association, the U.S. will need 3.5 million manufacturing jobs during the next decade but roughly 2 million jobs are likely to go unfilled due to the skills gap.

Winslow sees where MTS can help, especially in Florida, where CareerSource qualifies employers to receive up to 50 percent tuition reimbursement of training costs for the 80 to Work program.

“We are a manufacturing training company whose training programs are developed by manufacturers for manufacturers,” Winslow said. “The key to the success of the MTS program is we provide students with skill sets to make them productive in a manufacturing workplace on day one. That’s why our graduates get jobs. Other training programs sound great and look good on paper but have no input from manufacturers. The result is a student graduates from one of these programs with a certificate and can’t find a job, because they have none of the CNC skills that manufacturers need.”

For more information about the MTS training programs, please visit www.machiningsolutions.com, or call 407-478-6606.

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Kelley Chambers

Kelley Chambers is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering news in Oklahoma. He has worked for the The Oklahoman, was editor-in-chief of The Vista at the University of Central Oklahoma, served as writer and later editor-in-chief of okcBIZ magazine,...