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Written by SARAH McCRAW   
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 15:54

With a skill gap in the labor force, industries strive to be innovative

  The success of a quickly growing internship program is boosting efforts to create a new generation of workers in the skilled trades industry.

    John Crane Orion in Grafton, which manufactures hydrodynamic bearings used in high-speed rotating machinery, was the first company to partner with Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac to launch Computer Neumerical Control (CNC) Machining Boot Camps in fall 2012.


    The program is designed to fast-track CNC machining education and help strengthen an industry few have entered recently, Kristy Reed, operations people development manager for John Crane Orion said.


    “In the future, more people are going to need more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree, so these types of certificate programs are filling the gap,” Reed said.


    The boot camps are educating people about safe, clean and high-paying careers in skilled trades, breaking the stigma that manufacturing jobs are dirty and dangerous, Reed said.


    The program provides students with 72 hours of internship experience that may lead to jobs at area manufacturing companies.


    “I absolutely love this internship program, not only because it’s all accredited, but it really gives people three years of on-the-job training in just 16 weeks, so a huge learning curve is cut right there,” Reed said.


    The boot camp is also setting a base standard of knowledge for CNC machinists, ending the reputation that they are niche positions within a single company, Reed said.


    Businesses are certainly taking note of the level of performance from interns, Anne Lemke, economic and workforce development project manager at Moraine Park Technical College said.


    “We’ve had really good feedback on the boot camp from the employers,” Lemke said. “It’s not just about the skilled labor of working the CNC machine. We need people who can work well, can listen well and have problem-solving skills.”


    Lemke said John Crane Orion is one of three companies in Ozaukee County accepting interns for the 15-week program.


    Students spend one day at an internship and four days in class doing lab work on equipment that is identical to that on shop floors.


    “The program is 75% hands-on learning,” Reed said.


    Terese Cordova of Jackson is finishing an internship through the boot camp at John Crane Orion, where she is learning how to make hydro-dynamic bearings and seals used in oil and gas-powered generators.


    “Being here is really good for me because I can take what I’ve learned in the lab and see it applied in an actual manufacturing environment,” Cordova said.


    Lemke said the biggest challenge has been finding people to participate in the program.


    Students must pass a basic education, aptitude for learning, spacial recognition and mechanical aptitude tests to be accepted into the program.


    “We have more employers waiting for an intern than we have students to fill the positions,” Lemke said.


    Experience has shown that students who complete the programs are likely to secure a job, she said.


    Of 28 people who completed the program last school year, 22 were hired by area companies, Lemke said.


    “Students are so grateful for the opportunity,” she said. “A lot of people are unemployed because they’ve lost their job. This is giving them a great opportunity.


    “We’ve also gotten a lot of compliments from the employers who have worked with us that our students are more skilled for the positions.”


    Reed said interns at John Crane Orion handle a variety of jobs to get a full understanding of the production process.


    Nick Schmidt of Grafton was hired by John Crane Orion in 2011 after he completed a similar boot camp through Waukesha County Technical College.


    Schmidt said he was under-employed prior to going through the program.


    “You get to learn the machining right away. You don’t have to learn all the little programs and stuff like that,” he said. “You learn how to actually make the part instead of trying to figure out what the machine is trying to do.”


    A three-year, $705,000 grant from the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation provides funding for the program, Lemke said.


    Students pay $500 for the boot camp, but $375 is reimbursed if they complete the course with a C grade or above and meet the 98% attendance rate.


    “We tell students that CNC companies are constantly looking for help so the job security is there for you and you can take that wherever you want to go,” Lemke said.


Image Information: CNC MACHINST Scott Rome (left) showed Terese Cordova how to work on a product being made at John Crane Orion in Grafton. Cordova is completing a paid internship this summer at the company through the CNC Bootcamp at Moraine Park Technical College.             Photo by Sam Arendt

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