In manufacturing, gap is as much interest as skills
DYNAMIC RESULTS: Christian Rijos, 15, a student at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence, has participated in Center for Dynamic Learning classes and hopes to pursue a long-term career in manufacturing.
In the last four months, Rhode Island Carbide Tool Co. in Smithfield has installed four new pieces of equipment to make cutting grinders and tools for CNC, or computer numeric control, operators.
“We’ve spent more than $2 million on equipment in the last two years, and we wouldn’t be doing that if we weren’t busy,” said company President John Lombari.
Yet, finding qualified technicians is a challenge, particularly CNC operators who manipulate machines through computer programming instead of manually, he said.
“What we’re looking for is that kid that comes in, pays attention, has good math skills and shows up every day,” Lombari explained. “And we tell them they can come in, earn a good living and support a family. But educators are telling us we really have to get to the parents.”
While Lombari and others say parents tend to push their children toward college, which may not be necessary for students pursuing a career in manufacturing, the various paths being developed by educators and business leaders today include tracks that lead to college as well as those that don’t. Programs need to be comprehensive, these experts say, because opportunities in manufacturing are going unfilled, not only because of an identified “skills” gap, but because of a gap in interest.
Among youth, this apparent lack of interest in, and awareness about, available jobs in manufacturing and the pathways to them, is pronounced, entrepreneurs and educators say.
Briar Dacier teaches machine technology at the William M. Davies Jr. Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, and he is having trouble reaching not only the students, but at times the parents, when trying to encourage them to pursue machine technology as a career path.
“Their image of manufacturing – they can’t picture it,” Dacier said. “When someone says, ‘Do you want to be a chef?’ they know. When someone says, ‘Do you want to join machine technology,’ they don’t know the high-tech manufacturing of today versus the old manufacturing of yesterday. That’s where our biggest roadblock is.”
Dacier and his colleagues at Davies are working to revise the curriculum using CNC machines and by trying to teach use of them in the 11th grade. Dacier is also hoping to purchase more advanced CNC machines by next fall, he said.
“Starting even in the K-12 years, the focus has moved so far away from woodshop, machine shop and drafting courses, that they’re simply not offered anymore. So kids coming up through those grades aren’t being exposed to them,” said Ruth Gobeille, communications manager for the Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services in Providence.