Jessica Borza said she realizes the challenge that exists in presenting an accurate representation of today’s manufacturing industry to area students especially when it comes to the art of machining.
To some people, machining is a “dirty word,” she said.
But Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, along with area educators and local manufacturing companies, has been working to change how people view the skilled trade. Borza explained it’s a necessary effort if they hope to meet increasing demands of a job now in high demand.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Machinist teacher Bob Mercer, right, instructs Chase Fick of Johnston, left, and Shawn St. Clair Jr. of Newton Falls, on the computer program that operates the CNC mill behind them at KSU.
“The bottom line is we need more machinists,” Borza said. “We need more people to fill the jobs and we need people who have the skills companies are looking for.”
MVMC consists of nearly 50 manufacturing members, 45 education providers and others from an area that includes Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. The coalition developed a machining career pathway to give educators a better understanding of the skills needed to be a successful machinist.
“We started there because there is such a need for machinists right now in this area,” Borza said. “The jobs are there. We just need to bridge the gap between them and the workers by opening up opportunities to allow students to consider machining as a career option. We realized to do that we need to work with educators.”
Basically, machining is a precise, skilled trade that comes under the umbrella of manufacturing. But the occupation can cut off into a number of sectors. It often requires the worker to operate a machine to make tools or produce parts that are used to make or repair other machines. In some instances, a machinist is required to read blueprints, work with computer programs or cut metal into precise pieces. Typically, machinists are mechanically inclined and detail oriented.
Borza said area educators are seeing some movement when it comes to training opportunities in welding because it’s a trade that’s easier for people to picture themselves in. Many high school and adult continuing education classes in welding fill up quickly.
But machining seems to be less well known.
“It seems people don’t really understand what a machinist does. They hear welder and they can actually picture someone welding from what they’ve seen. But machining isn’t as easy to understand,” she said. “But it really is the most critical need we have based on information we receive from our members across the region.”
Locally, as more skilled machinists retire, the need to fill machining jobs grows.
Dale Foerster, vice president of Starr Manufacturing in Vienna, stressed the need for adequate and “appropriate” training for machinists.
Foerster, MVMC vice president, said it’s crucial for people to know the basics about machining when they step out of the classroom and onto a plant floor.
“It helps when we, as the companies, can work with educators to educate them on what we are looking for. It’s a partnership. The worker needs to have the skills to compete in the job market and we need to have skilled workers to compete as a business.”
Foerster explained that a machinist is not a machine operator. The skilled worker has to know calculus and trigonometry, be able to read a blueprint, do some programming and troubleshoot.
“They are not button pushers,” she said. “They have to not only troubleshoot and recognize what’s wrong, but be able to fix it. They have to be very precise and check their own work and know what they are checking. And there are many companies in this area that need trained, skilled machinists right now.”
Nearly 40 students have taken the Oh-Penn Manufacturing Collaborative’s manufacturing readiness class. Many of those individuals are now working in the industry, said Jessica Driscoll, a sector partnership coordinator with Oh-Penn. Driscoll said 12 additional students are in the progress of finishing the manufacturing readiness class, with another class scheduled to start at Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown this fall.
Across the region, several career and technical centers are offering machining programs that have been updated to reflect industry demand. For example, Eastern Gateway Community College is in the process of developing a two-year program for individuals interested in pursuing degrees.
“We expect these programs to produce around 25 to 30 new qualified machinists by this time next year,” Driscoll said.
In addition, programs at Trumbull Career and Technical Center, Mahoning Career and Technical Center and Columbiana Career and Technical Center focused on introducing 9th- and 10th-grade students to skilled trades.
The median hourly wage for machinists is $17.12 in the Youngstown-Warren area, $18.22 in Ohio and $19.03 throughout the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates Survey, which provides the most recent numbers available.
“It’s a constant process of educating parents and young people who are making decisions about their careers about the benefits and advantages of looking at machining as a career,” Borza said. “The return on the investment is there when you consider the livelihood and what a machinist is capable of earning compared to what the expense they invest in their education. They can complete a training program in high school, at a career center or through a continuing education program, that gets them started.
“Once they’re there, they can find many employers who will provide help with tuition or advanced training that they can use to move into other areas, other jobs, where they can earn more money. The possibilities are there. The challenge is educating people and getting the word out.”