A Gallatin College Montana State University workforce program that trains students to operate computer numerically controlled machines saw success last year in the hiring rates of its first graduating class. Now in its second year, enrollment in the program has increased by nearly 50 percent.
The Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machine Technology Certificate of Applied Science program had some interesting statistics in its inaugural year, said Aubrin Heinrichs, CNC program director.
“Last year we had 12 students, 11 who were full-time,” Heinrichs said. “We had nine who graduated and eight of those are employed full-time, all in Gallatin Valley. One student was taking the class as a hobbyist.”
Heinrichs added that most of the students were non-traditional, including a veteran and a student who had dropped out of high school, and all but two of the students were inexperienced in machining.
The 32-credit program, which is designed to be completed in two 16-credit semesters, prepares students to apply technical knowledge and skills to operate CNC machines such as lathes, mills and precision measuring tools, and to perform machining functions, such as cutting, drilling, shaping and finishing products and component parts. Graduates of the program earn a certificate of applied science and industry-recognized credentials from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills.
During the first semester, students learn the basics, with classes in technical math, machine shop, blueprint reading and computer-aided manufacturing. In the second semester, students take more advanced machining courses.
New this year are courses geared toward workplace communication and interpersonal skills that will be taught by Gallatin College MSU Workforce Navigator Charlynn Malcom, after feedback from industry professionals.
“Our courses are very fluid and we can adapt to the industry telling us what is needed,” Malcom said. “We are adding in professional practices courses that focus on workplace communication in the machining and welding industry. We want to make sure our students have those soft skills and know how to talk to their supervisor if something concerns them or if they are interested in a new opportunity."
Students will also learn how to prepare a resume and cover letter, and practice interviewing techniques, Malcom said.
In her role, Malcom also works to secure internships and apprenticeships for students to give them work experience while they go through the program and assists them in finding post-graduation employment.
“My main role is to meet with industry and line students up with employers to have 100 percent placement before, or soon after, graduation,” Malcom said. “The program was created out of industry need for qualified machinists, and the industry is still looking for more of these people. The industry is not going to get saturated. Some will be working in machine shops; some will open their own shops. Having a good pool of qualified machinists will also be advantageous to businesses looking to come into Bozeman.”
Thus far, graduates have successfully found employment in a diverse job market, Heinrichs said.
“Most of the jobs my students filled last year were new positions at the companies where they were hired,” he said. “All the positions were with different companies. Between them they have machined everything from cryogenic components to musical instrument components, from automotive parts to silicon and germanium crystals.”
Rhys McCotter was one of the students who was immediately able to find a job upon graduation, first working at a company that makes musical instrument components. McCotter now works at Knick Machining, where he does lathe operating to manufacture small detail parts for laser and optical companies. He said the training he received at Gallatin College gave him a good foundation for the wide variety of machining jobs in the industry.
“It got me started by learning the basics,” he said. “A lot of machine shops have specialties and you learn those when you get on the job, but it was a good start. I was impressed that it was more personal training because it’s a small college. Everyone was so excited to be there.”
Before signing up for the CNC program, McCotter worked general labor jobs. Now, he’s in a field he says keeps him interested and challenged.
“It’s definitely something I enjoy,” he said. “It’s a fun field. There’s math, computer science, art and it’s hands-on. It’s a creative field where everything comes together.”
Tim Patterson, owner of Gold Plug, LLC, a Bozeman-based company that manufactures magnetic drain plugs, hired another of the program’s first graduates and says he was pleased with the employee’s performance from the start.
“I am extremely happy with the skills he arrived with on the first day,” Patterson said. “A few days of teaching him machine-specific skills and he showed the ability to run them unsupervised. He asks questions when needed, but otherwise, he is a hundred percent on his own.”
Patterson says the program’s robust curriculum and the quality of its graduates can only benefit the growing machining industry.
“The number of small CNC machine shops in the valley continues to grow,” he said. “The skills these graduates bring into the shop not only help with day-to-day machining, but also add another point of view when designing new products. I have hired other people that had no training or had short CNC classes from other schools and they had to be re-trained from day one. Gallatin College not only gives them all the basic fundamentals, but also allows the student to graduate with lots of hands-on experience running a CNC machine.”
He also credits Heinrichs’ efforts in staying up to date on industry needs as another reason graduates are prepared for the workforce.
“I have been very impressed with Aubrin,” Patterson said. “He does a great job teaching, but also visits the local shops and asks what we are looking for in a graduate. With this knowledge, he can really get the students ready for the real world.”
With the increased enrollment this year, Heinrichs finds himself again working with an interesting set of numbers.
“Of the 17 students currently enrolled in the program, four are part-time students; four are employed in the industry (three were employed prior to enrolling in the program) and two are veterans,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what they end up doing in the industry.”
In addition to the CNC Machine Technology Certificate of Applied Science, Gallatin College MSU offers workforce programs in aviation, bookkeeping, business management, design drafting, health information coding, interior design, medical assistant and welding technology. It also offers associate degrees, developmental coursework in math and writing, and dual enrollment courses at local high schools.
For more information, go to http://www.montana.edu/gallatincollege.
Charlynn Malcom, (406) 994-9120 or email@example.com